The Wartime Treatment of Aliens


By MARSHALL E. DIMOCK, Associate Commissioner, Immigration and Naturalization Service, Department of Justice, Washington, D. C.

Delivered at the General Evening Session of the California Conference of Social Work, San Francisco Civic Auditorium, April 20, 1942

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VII, pp. 469-472.

HITLER is counting on our fumbling the ball in dealing with the problem of our foreign-born population during the emotionally tense days of this world conflict. We intend to show tie Axis that their expectations are wrong and that the American reputation for skillful sportsmanship is well deserved—that we can hit hard and at the same time live up to our usual standards of fair play.

In Hitler's calculations he counted a good deal upon the diversity of the American stock and on the disunity which he assumed would result in a time of crisis. His calculations were bound to be unreliable, if for no other reason than that he started with the underlying assumption of racial exclusiveness and superiority, which, as you know, is basic to the Nazi philosophy. In this, science and experience are against him. There is this much truth in Hitler's assumption, however, that the wartime treatment of our alien minority is fraught with great potential danger. It is more difficult in this country than in any other, and hence requires a high form of statesmanship and community cooperation if we are to be successful.

If we are too considerate of people's feelings, we may fail to catch dangerous Fifth Columnists. If we are stupid and bungling in our handling of the alien question, we might knock national unity for a loop. It is the narrow and difficult course between these extremes which we must run.

America has by far the largest percentage of foreign-born population of any country in the world—more than one-fourth of our total population of 130,000,000 was either born abroad or represents the sons and daughters of the foreign born. Thirty-eight million of our population have come here as immigrants since 1820, 25,000,000 of them having been admitted during the last fifty years. Five million persons registered under the Alien Registration Act of 1940. Another 7,000,000 have been naturalized, bringing the present total of the foreign born to 12,000,000, while approximately 25,000,000 more are the sons and daughters of immigrants. In size of alien population, California isnext only to New York, having over half a million, or one-tenth of the national total. This fact, plus California's relation to the theater of war, makes the wartime program for aliens of greater immediate importance to the citizens of this State than to any other in the country.

Our English-speaking allies have had difficulty with this problem, and yet their foreign-born populations are relatively small as compared with ours. England, for example, with a population of 46,000,000, has an alien population of only 230,000, one-half of one per cent of the total. The United States, in comparison, has a foreign-born population of almost ten per cent, 3 1/2 per cent still being aliens. A mere setting forth of these figures gives some idea of the enormity and gravity of the task.

Let us now look a bit more closely at the composition and distribution of the alien population in the State of California. New York has a total alien population of 1,235,000, most of whom are found in New York City. California is second with 531,810 aliens, 47 per cent of whom live in the principal cities of San Francisco and Los Angeles. San Francisco has 25 per cent of the total state alien population, and Los Angeles accounts for 22 per cent. The total of 531,810 for the State is made up by principal nationality groups as follows:



27 per cent



10 per cent



7 per cent



7 per cent

Great Britain


6 per cent

Philippine Islands


6 per cent



4 per cent



4 per cent

Germany 19,417

4 per cent

Now, how about the size of the enemy alien population in California? The total number for the country, as reflected in the recent identification program is 1,100,000. Of this number 110,212 are found in California. In other words, California has approximately 10 per cent of the total alien population and approximately 10 per cent of the alien enemy population. According to Alien Registration figures there are 54,658 non-citizen Japanese in the continental United States, of whom 38,171 are found in the State of California; 2,319 are registered in New York State; and most of the balance is accounted for in the Pacific Coast states. The best estimate of the number of American born of Japanese stock is 79,642, and of this number 60,148 were residing in the State of California at the outbreak of the war. I do not want to bore you with statistics, but perhaps the ones that I have mentioned are indispensable to any realistic analysis.

Let me give you a thumbnail sketch of this country's preparation for dealing with our alien population during the war. To begin with, we must keep espionage agents, saboteurs, and any who would further the enemy's cause out of the country, not permitting a single dangerous one to slip in. This important responsibility is entrusted along the 6,000 mile land border to the Border Patrol, which within the last two years has been doubled in size. As many of you know, this is one of the most effective police organizations in the United States. At all the ports of entry this force is supplemented by immigrant inspectors; there are 500 local offices of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, a large percentage of which are on the borders and the sea coasts. Under this set-up the prevention of illegal entries has been developed to a high point of efficiency.

Then there has been established in the State Department a war-time system of sifting the applications of aliens whodesire to come to this country either for permanent residence or as visitors. Inter-departmental Committees consisting of representatives of the State Department, Immigration and Naturalization Service, Naval Intelligence, Military Intelligence, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation pass upon each individual applicant and from an unfavorable opinion an appeal may be taken to Review Boards, constituted along the same lines, and eventually to an Appeal Board of two prominent individuals appointed by the President. It can readily be seen, therefore, that both from the standpoint of police organization and the sifting of applications for admission, this country has increased its vigilance and methods of protection in response to the war situation.

Then there is our program for aliens who are already in the United States. Thanks to the Alien Registration Act of 1940 and the recent identification program for alien enemies, we now have a vast amount of knowledge concerning the 5,000,000 aliens of all nationalities and the 1,100,000 Germans, Italians, and Japanese. Alien registration has proved to be the best method of preparation we could possibly have undertaken to meet the present emergency. From its individual and statistical data, which have now been processed, we are supplying not only the police agencies of the Department of Justice, but also the Intelligence services of the Army and Navy. A special organization has been set up for the purpose of discovering, arresting, and prosecuting any and all aliens who have failed to comply with the Alien Registration Act and the alien enemy identification program.

The efficacy of these two programs will be judged ultimately in large part by our ability to apprehend those who have failed to comply, because in some percentage of the cases at least non-compliance is due to an attempt to cover up activities or orientations opposed to the safety and welfare of our country. We appeal to all of you to assist us in bringing non-compliers to the portals of justice. Remember always that the only sure defense of our American policy of tolerance and our American tradition of fair play is found in the rigorous prosecution of alien malefactors, and that in apprehending them we must rely upon democracy's faith in eternal vigilance. Responsibility for apprehensions and arrests is and must be in the appropriate police agencies; the responsibility for vigilance is and must be as broad and inclusive as every last one of us who seeks to protect his country.

Contrary to certain prevailing notions, our program of arresting and deporting aliens who are in this country illegally or who have made themselves subject to deportation by criminal, immoral, or other acts specified in the immigration laws, is continuing with full force and effectiveness during the war. Last year, for example, we deported from the United States more than 10,000 aliens either under warrants of arrest or by enforced departure at their own expense. Naturally, with most of Europe sealed up tight and with transportation across the Atlantic so hard to get, our opportunities for effecting deportations to Europe and other parts of the world are considerably circumscribed. Nevertheless, it is our policy to arrest and deport wherever possible, especially in those categories where the further presence of the alien in the United States is contrary to our national safety and well-being, and to seek means of dealing effectively with the more dangerous of our deportable aliens despite handicaps due to the war. Fortunately, in a large percentage of cases we are able to take this action under the wartime enemy alien powers.

Another mistaken notion, at least on the part of some people, is that naturalization has been suspended for the duration. There is no truth whatsoever to this report. Anyforeign-born person who was entitled to file a declaration of intention to become a citizen before the war still has the same right. Everybody—including the alien enemy—still has a right to take the second step, to petition for naturalization. Foreign-born persons who do not fall in the alien enemy category have not been affected so far as naturalization procedure is concerned. In the case of alien enemies, the cases fall into two groups: those whose cases were pending and who may proceed after ninety days, and those who have not yet petitioned and who must in such cases have their petitions treated as Presidential exceptions. In these latter cases an exceedingly searching investigation is being made, and before the District Director of the Immigration and Naturalization Service recommends favorable action upon the petition, the case is carefully reviewed centrally before it is given the green light. In this important field, therefore,—the granting of the priceless privilege of citizenship—we are trying to do two things which will make a balanced program: permit all deserving persons to proceed toward citizenship and at the same time redouble our caution lest undesirable individuals slip through.

This formula is one which will describe the over-all policy for dealing with our alien population during wartime. In acting upon petitions for naturalization, the two most important conditions are that the individual be truly attached to the principles of the Constitution and our form of government, and secondly, that he have the knowledge of our language and the knowledge of our institutions to be an effective citizen.

If the comprehension of the average American of what Americanism and democracy mean should ever become mere words, no number of "flying fortresses" could ever give our country real protection. We must secure widespread understanding and uniformly shared emotions before we can fight the kind of fight which will bring victory. This being the case, the National Citizenship Education Program which was started almost a year ago and which brings together some of the work of the Office of Education, the WPA, and the Immigration and Naturalization Service, is of the highest importance in training future citizens and raising the general level of the country's morale. I am glad to report that this program is operating in all forty-eight states; that we have a total of 350,000 aliens enrolled in-these classes, and that they are taught by 6,000 persons. California, as many of you know, is one of the leaders in this field of activity.

This gives you a general picture of how our Government is attempting to protect our borders and our seacoasts from illegal entries; how it is sifting those who apply for admission; and how it is at one and the same time policing and encouraging the 5,000,000 aliens within our borders by registering them, by naturalizing them, and educating and inspiring them in what Americanism really means.

In all aspects of this program, the social worker plays an important part. The social worker protects the alien upon his arrival in this country lest he be exploited; he helps the alien get a job and adjust himself to changed social conditions; he assists the newcomer to comply with laws affecting him, such as the Alien Registration Act and the identification program; he gladly responds to the Government's request to make investigations of family situations and good moral character in cases arising under the suspension of deportation provision of the Alien Registration Act of 1940; the social worker is alert to his responsibilities in protecting our country against any who are disloyal or plot unlawful actions; social workers are prominent in the Citizenship Education Program and in the preparation of candidates for citizenship, whether it be teachingclasses or helping to fill out the preliminary forms of application. You support our police and enforcement programs; your assistance is invaluable in our remedial and constructive programs looking toward the amalgamation of the foreign-born population in the organization of the war effort.

The wartime treatment of aliens is brought home to you more in California than in any other part of the country. All aspects of the program are intensified here. This is particularly true of the alien enemy program, with particular reference to the relocation of part of our population for purposes of defense and safety.

As nearly as any of us can judge, the alien enemy program seems to be operating very well. Even before the outbreak of the war, the Attorney General, through the Immigration and Naturalization Service, had taken the wise precaution of placing almost 2,000 Axis seamen in protective custody at three detention camps in this western part of the country. The Immigration and Naturalization Service had provided detention facilities for 7,500 persons, although less than one-third of this space was actually being used at the outbreak of the war. December seventh we were called upon overnight to provide temporary detention quarters for double that number. This was done with creditable dispatch and smoothness.

There are six principal steps in the alien enemy procedure: (1) investigation and apprehension, this being primarily the responsibility of the Federal Bureau of Investigation; (2) temporary detention, this being the responsibility of the Immigration and Naturalization Service; (3) the hearing administered by the civilian hearing board, of which there are approximately 100, there being one at least in each judicial district; (4) the recommendation of the hearing board, which is forwarded to Washington for review by the Alien Enemy Control Unit of the Department of Justice, and decision by the Attorney General; (5) decision of the case and preparation of appropriate orders; (6) execution of the decision, which takes one of three forms: release, parole, or detention for the duration.

According to the latest figures I have seen, 7,800 enemy aliens have been apprehended under the alien enemy procedure since the outbreak of the war, and of this number 4,000 are still in detention and the remainder have been disposed of. Generally speaking, the recommendations of the civilian hearing board are followed in Washington, there having been only a small percentage of cases in which the recommendation has been overruled or not followed. The advantages of the centralized review in Washington, as you will appreciate, are that it tends to secure uniformity of policy and treatment throughout the country and prevent arbitrary action in individual cases.

One of the most interesting and difficult aspects of the alien enemy program is that which has to do with parole procedure. In this area social workers can be, and already have been, of considerable assistance. If a person is not dangerous enough to be placed in detention on the basis of his past actions or future threatened actions, and if at the same time there is any remaining suspicion concerning his reliability, the obvious middle course is to put him on parole. There are several advantages to this system: it makes it clear that the alien must behave himself; it charges the sponsor who assumes responsibility for the parolee with a definite obligation to society; it sets up a network of surveillance midway between the two poles.

The greatest difficulty in the procedure, of course, is to secure satisfactory sponsors. This is rarely easy, and in many cases it is very difficult. Ideally, the sponsor shouldhave previous knowledge of the parolee, but at the same tune he must not be biased in his favor and hence disposed to shirk his public responsibility. In most cases it is possible to secure a sponsor who qualifies in both respects, namely, he has previous knowledge of the alien, and his sense of patriotism and responsibility is first-rate. But what shall the Government do when a satisfactory sponsor is not forthcoming? In one of the Atlantic seaboard states, a board has been set up consisting of representatives of various groups, social, economic, patriotic, and among them a trained social worker. In difficult cases where satisfactory sponsors are not forthcoming, this board is responsible for choosing a suitable sponsor. Increasing attention is being given to the use of persons who have had no previous knowledge of the alien, but who are particularly well qualified because of previous experience and general fitness.

I say again that this is an aspect of the whole alien enemy procedure in which the social worker, because of his training and acquired knowledge, can properly be of real value to those who are responsible for administering this program. Contrary to what I have heard some people say, I find few social workers who are warped in their judgments or in their patriotic duty by an excess of sentimentality or softness. On the contrary, because of the hardships which they daily observe, and the grim realities with which they are called upon to deal, they acquire the attitude which we commonly associate with the medical doctor or the nurse, that is, the feeling of underlying sympathy, controlled, however, by the intellectual necessities of the situation and the prevention of destructive wear and tear on the nervous system which comes from letting one's sentiments predominate. Social work is truly a profession. The social workers whom I know best, such as Miss Breckenridge and Miss Abbott, have all of the objectivity and professional attitude associated with law or medicine in their highest manifestations. I have no doubt, therefore, that social workers can be invaluable in the police aspects of the alien program as well as in the educational and inspirational side of the work.

Your greatest challenge is, of course, the relocation program. I suppose you feel a natural human sympathy for many of those whose lives are disturbed, but on the other hand, you appreciate, as we all do, when we look at it objectively, that their inconvenience and discomfort are part of the general dislocation which affects everybody today,and which is not nearly so great as that experienced by people in many other countries. Take, for example, the stories that come out of Europe about the wholesale transfers of population by the Axis dictators—transfers either for pillage or slave labor.

It is against this backdrop and the necessity of responding to the requirements of the life-and-death struggle in which we are engaged that the relocation program on the Pacific Coast must be judged. I have no official connection with the work of the Army or the program of the War Relocation Authority, and hence cannot attempt to discuss in detail a problem with which I am not familiar. It does seem safe to say, however, that in certain areas of this difficult program the social worker must be relied upon to a greater extent than any other professional group. This is true when it comes to the provision of services for dependents who are left behind, and whose principal sources of support have been removed. I should think that you might be called upon to render assistance in the disposition of property and personal effects. I know that one reason such a large number of aliens have come to California is because certain organizations have assisted them to settle on this Coast after fleeing from Europe as political refugees. These programs which have been planned so carefully and upon which large sums of money have been expended are now likely to be jeopardized, and it may be necessary to start all over again. If my confidence in the hard-headedness and objectivity of the social worker is well placed, I expect you to say in many instances, as all of us are forced to say, "This is war." Hardships and dislocations are difficult, but compared with what other countries are doing, and what we must do if we are to survive, there seems to be no other possible course. What we have to do, let us do thoroughly and forcefully, realizing that it cannot be helped; but in doing it, let us try to adhere to our American practice of showing consideration where possible and treating everyone with equal fairness and respect for legal requirements.

Never before in our history has there been greater need of unswerving execution of necessary programs designed to assure our safety and well being; never before in our history has there been greater need to reassure that large portion of our population which is foreign born that the reputation for fairness and good will which Americans have gained through the generations is still alive and in full force today.