Alien Registration Act


On June 28, 1940, President Roosevelt signed into law the (Smith) Alien Registration Act. (H. R. 5138)

An Act to prohibit certain subversive activities; to amend certain provisions of law with respect to the admission and deportation of aliens; to require the fingerprinting and registration of aliens; and for other purposes.

In mid-August, officials of the DOJ held a two-day conference with state officials they called “Law Enforcement Problems of National Defense”. Attorney General Jackson and FBI Director Hoover delineated the proper roles for federal and state authorities with respect to seditious activities. They successfully forestalled state regulation of aliens and found state officials receptive to their arguments that states needed to prevent vigilantism and protect aliens, while trusting federal authorities to use the Smith Act to deal with espionage and “fifth column” activities.

The Pittsburgh Press (August 25, 1940)

140,000 in Western Part Of State to Register

An army of 140,000 aliens, including 15,000 to 20,000 Pittsburghers, will begin a four-month-long march to district registration offices in Western Pennsylvania Tuesday to be enrolled and finger-printed by the Federal Government.

The army will represent but a segment of the 3.5 million aliens throughout the country who are expected to be registered by next Christmas in compliance with the Alien Registration Act.

Under the Act, all aliens who are at least 14, must report personally to a registration office to supply pertinent information about themselves and be fingerprinted. Children under 14 must be registered by their parents or legal guardians.

“Willful” failure to register before the Dec. 26 deadline, or failure to supply true information, is subject to a fine of $1,000 or six months’ imprisonment, or both.

A corps of 160 workers, under Postmaster S. A. Bodkin, most of them specially selected under Civil Service rules, will be on hand at 12 offices in the Pittsburgh district when the registration drive opens at 10 a.m. Tuesday.

The offices, situated mostly in schools rather than post offices to insure “privacy,” will be open every day of the week except Sunday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.

The Alien’s Task

Here, according to the law, is what every alien 14 years of age and over will have to do:

  • Go to any post office (the local “drug store post office” will do) and obtain, if he has not already done so, a “preliminary blank.”

  • Fill out the blank and return it personally – don’t mail – to any one of the registration offices.

  • Have the information from the preliminary blank transcribed by a registrar to an official blank and be finger-printed.

Will Get 'Receipt’

Later, the alien will be mailed a “receipt” listing his name, address, registration number and a print of his right index finger. The receipt does not have to be carried by the alien.

Aliens under 14 will not be fingerprinted and they need not appear personally to register. Information concerning them, however, must be supplied by a parent or guardian, and once the child reaches his 14th birthday he must report for permanent registration and fingerprinting at a local office within 30 days.

Even alien seamen, orphans, incompetents and persons in insane asylums, hospitals and prisons will be listed.

A facsimile of the ‘receipt’ which aliens will get after they register. The receipt doesn’t have to be carried by the person.

Must Report Addresses

Temporary residents – visitors, students, etc. – must report their address, whether changed or unchanged, every three months. Aliens permanently residing in the United States must notify the Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization, Washington, D.C., of any change of address within five days.

Penalty for violation of this clause is $100 fine or 30 days in jail, or both.

Some Face Deportation

Most stringent part of the act is the provision for mandatory deportation of all aliens who arrived in America illegally after July 1, 1924, although enforcement of this may be held in abeyance because of the European war.

Un der the law, aliens who came here illegally must report that fact to the registration office. Officials warned that failure to do so will subject guilty persons not only to deportation but to an additional $1,000 fine or six months in jail, or both.

Aliens who came here illegally before July 1, 1924, however, will not be deported.

If In Doubt – Register

Persons who are doubtful of their citizenship status should register to avoid the act’s penalties, officials said, pending a ruling from the Naturalization Bureau.

A woman’s citizenship has been independent from that of her husband’s since Sept. 22, 1922; a child’s has been independent from that of his parents since May 24, 1934. Consequently, since that time, the naturalization of a husband or father does not automatically pass on citizenship to anyone else.

Among the information which aliens will be asked to give is the port of their last entry into the U.S., length of residence in this country, usual and present occupations, military or naval service record and a list of an y arrests, indictments, or convictions.

Memberships to be Listed

Aliens also will be asked to list memberships in any clubs, organizations or societies, including those “devoted…to influencing or furthering the political activities, public relations, or public policy of a foreign government.”

In a proclamation yesterday, Mayor Cornelius D. Scully set tomorrow as “Alien Registration Day” in Pittsburgh and asked all aliens to obtain the necessary preliminary blanks at the nearest post office. He also urged citizens to assist aliens in order to facilitate registration.

Registration records will be kept secret and will be available only to persons authorized by the Attorney General. Fingerprints will be filed with the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Offices in the Pittsburgh district will be in Brushton, East Liberty, Hazelwood, Knoxville, Lawrenceville, Mt. Washington, North Side, Sharpsburg, South Side, Swissvale, West End and Downtown.

Although Postmaster Bodkin will be in official charge, the registration offices will be directly under the supervision of Reed Fowler, assistant superintendent of mails, who was regional head of the unemployment census several years ago.