Saturday, January 14, 2017

This Day in History:
Precedent for a Muslim Registry? Presidential Proclamation No. 2537

Notice to Aliens of Enemy Nationalities
February 9, 1942
Courtesy National Archives Catalog
This U. S. Department of Justice notice directed aliens of German, Italian, and Japanese nationalities to apply for a Certificate of Identification by February 28, 1942

Soon to be sworn in as the 45th President of the United States, President Elect Donald Trump has advocated establishing a registry for Muslim residents in the United States and a temporary ban on Muslim immigrants to United States—components of a war on terror.

On this day, January 14, we look at the alien registry of 1942, a precursor to events across the nation during World War II, which had significant impact on our state’s Japanese American citizens during the war.

January 14, 1942: Only five and a half weeks after Japan’s bombing of Pearl Harbor triggering U.S. entry into World War II, President Franklin Roosevelt issued Presidential Proclamation No. 2537. The proclamation required non-citizens of enemy nationality—Italians, Germans, and Japanese—aged 14 and older to register with the United States Department of Justice. These individuals then would be issued a Certificate of Identification for Aliens of Enemy Nationality.

Friedrich Roetter’s Application for Certificate of Identification, 1942

Proclamation No. 2537 also sanctioned measures of control over the travel and conduct of aliens, including property ownership rights, and allowed the arrest, detention, and internment of aliens who were in violation of federally designated restricted areas.

The proclamation, in fact, was a follow-up—a second registration as it were—for those aliens who had registered earlier with the 1940 Alien Registration Act, a national security measure. Preliminary tabulations from this Act identified the enemy alien population in the United States as at least 315,000 Germans, nearly 700,000 Italians, and 92,000 Japanese.

Heigoro Endo’s Alien Registration Card, 1940 
Courtesy The Endo Family
As U.S. Attorney General Francis Biddle noted in a broadcast, the certificate was to be used “at all times and in all places, for the duration of the war.” Explaining his position he said, “I describe the identification programs as another part of the job of making America safe—safety for the nation against the small minority of alien enemies who may be contemplating trouble, and safety for the great majority of aliens who are above suspicion.” A little over a million aliens of German, Italian, and Japanese origin registered.

Toyo Miyatake, Boys Behind Barbed Wire, 1944
Courtesy of Alan Miyatake
Proclamation No. 2537 ushered in an era of what today is considered a national shame: the relocation and incarceration of nearly 120,000 Japanese Americans and residents of Japanese descent living in the Pacific Coast region. A month after its issue, on February 19, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 authorizing the War Department to set aside military areas from which Japanese Americans were excluded, thus paving away for the establishment of “internment” camps to which they were forcibly removed. For the duration of the war these men, women, and children—most of them U.S. citizens—lived in prison camps in California, Wyoming, Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Utah, and Arkansas.

Also sent to camps throughout the country were approximately 11,507 German Americans, an estimated 4,500 ethnic Germans and Italians from Latin America, and non-citizen Italian-born individuals, especially Italian diplomats, businessmen, and international students. These camps were operated by the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

German and Italian migrants leaving Philadelphia for a camp in Butte, Montana, August 1941
Associated Press; courtesy of
Despite his advocacy of the Enemy Alien Certificate of Identification, U.S. Attorney General Francis Biddle offered a measure of caution. “Let us not be hasty in our judgment of them. Let us not deprive them of their jobs,” he said. “Let us not be suspicious of them unless we have grounds for suspicion. Let us not persecute these people as an outlet of our emotions against the bandits who are at the moment in control of the nations where they were born.”

As the United States revisits its foreign policy and protocols in a war against terror, and as President Elect Trump’s position continues to invite controversy, Biddle’s words are frighteningly relevant.

Shelly Kale
Publications and Strategic Projects Manager

Francis Biddle, Identification of Alien Enemies, an address by the Honorable Francis Biddle, Attorney General of the United States, on Sunday February 1, 1942, 7:15 to 7:30 pm, E.S.T. over the Columbia Broadcasting System, Washington, D. C.;

Karen E. Ebel, Timeline, German American Internees in the United States during WWII;

Lynn Goodsell, “World War II Enemy Aliens Program: Notice to Aliens of Enemy Nationalities,” Oct. 13, 15, 2009, National Archives, Washington, DC;

Abby Phillip and Abigail Hauslohner, “Trump on the future of proposed Muslim ban, registry,” Washington Post, December 12, 2016;

United States Department of Justice, “Regulations Controlling Travel and Other Conduct of Aliens of Enemy Nationalities,” February 5, 1942 (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1942);


Don’t miss this CHS event commemorating the 75th Anniversary of Executive Order 9066:
Thursday, February 23, 2017, 6:00pm
Celebrating the California Historical Society’s 1972 Landmark Exhibition and Book,
Executive Order 9066
Please join the California Historical Society as we celebrate our landmark 1972 exhibition and book of historic photographs, Executive Order 9066. The first to exclusively explore the World War II incarceration of Japanese American citizens and people of Japanese descent, the exhibition premiered at San Francisco’s Legion of Honor and UC Berkeley’s University Art Museum before it traveled nationally. Our program will include individuals and descendants of those who visited the exhibition along with the curator of the Dorothea Lange collection at the Oakland Museum of California (OMCA). The program will be moderated by historian Charles Wollenberg.

Read More about Executive Order 9066 and Japanese American incarceration on the CHS Blog:

It Can’t Happen Here - Executive Order 9066 Revisited

Day of Remembrance: Executive Order 9066 and the Incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II

This Day in History: California Celebrates Fred Korematsu

This Day in History - August 10: The U.S. Rights a Wrong

70 Years Ago Today: World War II Incarceration Camp at Manzanar Closes

Uncovering History through Art and Artifacts: Japanese Internment

 Presidential Proclamation No. 2537

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