Alien Enemies Act and Related World War II
Presidential Proclamations

In 1798, the US government passed the Alien Enemies and Sedition Acts. The Sedition Act was eventually overturned, but the Alien Enemies Act ( AEA) was recodified in 1918 and is part of the US war and national defense statutes. (50 USC 21-24). The AEA provides that the President, pursuant to proclamation, may deem all aliens of a hostile nation within the United States alien enemies and determine the manner in which they may be “apprehended, restrained, secured and removed.” (50 USC 21). See below for a discussion of the Presidential Proclamations, as well as links to the full text of each Proclamation and related documents. If you prefer to view a list, see Related Legislation Archive.

The Alien Enemies Act (“AEA”), set forth above, provides that the President, pursuant to proclamation, may deem all aliens of a “hostile nation” within the United States alien enemies and determine the manner in which they may be “apprehended, restrained, secured and removed.” (50 USC 21) Following Pearl Harbor, FDR did exactly that. Presidential Proclamations 2525-2527 which follow are virtually identical, except for the nation specified. Proclamation 2525 (applicable to Japanese aliens) also sets forth the regulatory restrictions on alien enemies which were incorporated by reference into Proclamation 2526 (Germans) and Proclamation 2527 (Italians), so that all nationalities were treated identically under the AEA.

The proclamations deemed Japanese, German and Italian aliens to be “alien enemies,” and: 1) delegated authority to control alien enemies in the US, Alaska to the Department of Justice and those in Hawaii, the Philippines and the Panama Canal Zone to the Secretary of War, 2) required them to register with the US government as alien enemies, 3) set forth general regulations to restrict their actions (which permitted establishment of zones from which they could be evacuated) and 4) specifically authorized summary apprehension and internment for the duration of the war if an alien enemy was “deemed potentially dangerous to the peace and security of the US.” (Presidential Proclamations 2525 (Japanese), 2526 (Germans) and 2527 (Italian) Dec. 1941).

Presidential Proclamations 2525-2527 noted above were issued by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt pursuant to the Alien Enemies Act as the war began. As the war ended, President Harry S Truman, rather than risk releasing the dangerous internees from the camps, decided to require deportation in accordance with regulations to be created by the Attorney General, and, with respect to Latin American internees, in accordance with US agreements with those countries from which the internees originated and the US Secretary of State. See Presidential Proclamations 2655, 2662 and 2685.

Post-War Presidential Proclamations and Supreme Court Decision—Ludecke v. Watkins

In March 1945, Latin American countries which participated in the US-Latin American program pursuant to which at least 4,050 German Latin Americans and over 2000 Japanese Latin Americans were interned in the US, granted authority to President Truman to deport internees originating from those countries to nations outside the Western Hemisphere. In July 1945, as hostilities with Germany ended, President Truman issued Presidential Proclamation 2655, requiring all US resident internees who the Attorney General deemed still to be a threat to the United States to be deported. In September 1945, President Truman issued Presidential Proclamation 2662 authorizing the deportation of Latin American internees in accordance with agreements the US had with those countries. Presidential Proclamation 2662 was superseded by Presidential Proclamation 2685 issued in April 1946. This provided, among other things, that if an internee was to be deported, thirty days was declared a reasonable time for the “alien enemy to effect the recovery, disposal, and removal of his goods and effects, and for his departure.

Ludecke v. Watkins, District Director of the Immigration. 335 US 160 (1948)

Presidential Proclamation 2655 was contested in court by Kurt G. W. Ludecke, a German enemy alien arrested on December 8, 1941. He was interned for the duration of the war and ordered deported by the Attorney General in January 1946. After making its way through federal court system, Mr. Ludecke’s writ of habeas corpus for release from detention under the deportation order was finally affirmed in June 1948 by the Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision. In the majority opinion written by Justice Felix Frankfurter, the Court did not agree with Ludecke’s position that the Alien Enemies Act only permitted internment and deportation until hostilities ceased with a nation with which the US was at war, in this case, Germany. The court determined that under the Alien Enemies Act, an alien enemy could be restricted as provided in that act until a treaty was signed with the foreign government. At the time the Supreme Court reached this conclusion, hostilities with Germany had been over for three years and Mr. Ludecke had been interned for seven. It is not known if he was deported or released. What is known is that hundreds of ethnic German enemy aliens and their families remained interned in Ellis Island fighting deportation for up to three years after the cessation of hostilities with Germany. Many others were deported.  Ludecke v. Watkins

The William Langer Bill, S. 1749

Known to many at the time as a defender of the “underdog,” Sen. William Langer of North Dakota, home of the large Ft. Lincoln internment camp, tried to come to the rescue of those remaining in the internment camps pursuant to President Truman’s post-war Presidential Proclamations 2655, 2662 & 2685. In July 1947, two years after the cessation of hostilities, Sen. Langer introduced S. 1749 “for the relief of all persons detained as enemy aliens.” At that time, hundreds of ethnic Germans remained incarcerated at Ellis Island. The bill was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee but never passed. It directed the Attorney General to cancel the “outstanding warrants of arrest, removal, or deportation” of many German alien enemies who remained interned. Many internees were listed by name, but included all other persons detained by the Immigration and Naturalization Service of the DOJ as enemy aliens.

The legislation also directed the INS not to issue additional warrants or orders if they were based on any act or status which served as a basis for the original warrants of arrest, removal or deportation being canceled by the bill, if passed. Sen. Langer tried to make sure the internees would not be accosted again by the INS. The bill continues: “Such persons shall not again be subject to removal or deportation by reason of the same facts upon which such removal or deportation proceedings were commenced or such warrants have been issued.” Although it never passed, S. 1749 and Sen. Langer’s interest gave the languishing internees hope. At this time, no one knows conclusively what finally led the US government and its then-Attorney General to relinquish their plenary jurisdiction over the internees. Many internees believe that the mere fact that Sen. Langer’s introduced the bill heightened awareness of the internees plight, and that, along with the passage of time, finally led to their release. The last internee left Ellis Island in late 1948.

Executive Order 9066

Executive Order 9066, issued pursuant to the President’s war powers, set the stage for the military oversight of Japanese, German and Italian aliens and citizens. The order clearly had the greatest impact on West Coast Japanese and Japanese Americans of whom over 100,000 were evacuated and incarcerated for much of the war. The US government has since apologized for this highly controversial and regrettable action. It has also paid reparations to many Japanese and Japanese Americans pursuant to the Civil Liberties Act of 1988.

German and Italian Americans were not incarcerated in this way for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was that it was inexpedient to evacuate and incarcerate millions. The executive order was used by the military, however, to exclude naturalized German and Italian Americans and aliens on an individual basis based on the same sort of “evidence” and hearing procedure used by the Attorney General to intern alien enemies. There was much collaboration between the Department of Justice and the War Department regarding the various excludees. The program was not of long duration, however, and some brave federal judges helped put an end to it. Not in time, though, for hundreds who were forced to leave their homes, or left in fear of being ordered to do so.