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Alien Records

In 1798, only twenty years after America had obtained its independence from British rule, Congress passed the country's first “Alien Act” that authorized the president to order out of the country all aliens regarded as dangerous. During the First World War, legislation (Alien Enemy Act of 1918) ordered the registration of aliens from nations at war with the United States.
Alien immigrants were again required to register after the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941. Of particular interest to the Department of Justice was the registration of aliens of enemy nations, such as Germany, Italy, Japan, Austria, Bulgaria, and Hungary. Alien immigrants were photographed, fingerprinted, and required to list all family members and relatives—in this country and in the old country—indicating any who were in military service in an enemy nation.

When the Alien Registration Act of 1940 was passed, alien immigrants across the United States flocked to their local post office to register with the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). Everyone over the age of fourteen years was fingerprinted. Each individual was given a two-page form to fill out (the AR-2); an additional form (the AR-3) was attached with a perforation. The forms were numbered serially with an Alien Registration Number, or A-number, which was assigned to the person who filled out the form. The completed forms were then sent to the INS for statistical coding, indexing, and filing. After this, the AR-3, or Alien Registration Receipt Card, was returned to the individual, who was required to carry the card at all times.

The information on all alien immigrants was kept on file by the INS, which by this time was no longer part of the Department of Labor, as it had been previously. In response to Mussolini's declaration of war on France on 10 June 1940, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt transferred immigrant services to the Department of Justice; immigration was now perceived as an issue of national security rather than an economic issue. Three weeks later, on June 28, Congress passed the Alien Registration Act of 1940 (a bill also known as the Smith Act, named for its chief proponent, Congressman Howard Smith of Virginia). This was an amendment to the Alien Enemy Act of 1918.

There were 3.5 million aliens registered from 1940-1944 and some of their files are quite extensive. After 1944 INS made an individual file for each immigrant, containing all papers and documents relating to that person. The forms were sent to INS for coding and indexing. Many of the records are now more than 70 years old and many are available to the public. Some of these are online at the National Archives (see below). Early registrations (c. July 1940-April 1944/A-numbers below 12,000,000) are on microfilm in INS custody, searchable by name, date of birth, and place of birth. These records are subject to the Freedom of Information Act/Privacy Act. To request copies of A-Files, researchers must submit a request identifying the immigrant by name, date of birth and place of birth from the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

The AR-2 forms included the following information: Name, Name used upon entry to U.S., Residence in U.S., Post office address, Date of birth, Place of birth, Citizenship, Sex, Marital Status, Race, Physical description, Date, vessel and port of last U.S. port arrival, Class of admission, Date of first arrival into U.S., Number of years in U.S., Usual occupation, Present occupation, Employer, Employer's address, Employer's type of business, Activities and membership in clubs, organizations and etc., Military service, Petition of Intention, Petition for Naturalization, Arrests, Work for foreign government in last five years, and Signature.

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