The Alien Registration Act of 1940 required that each alien living within U.S. borders go to their local post office and register their alien status with the government during a four month period ending in December of 1940. The registration process included a questionnaire form and a requirement that fingerprints be taken at the time of registration (certain exclusions applied for diplomats, employees of foreign governments, and children under the age of 14).
The Alien Registration Form (Form AR-2) contained fifteen questions including when and where the subject was born, when and where they entered the United States, a physical description, and inquiries about employment, organization memberships, prior military service, criminal record, and attempts to obtain naturalization in the United States. As the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) received the forms, an Alien Registration Number was assigned (ex. A1 234 567) and an Alien Registration Receipt Card containing this number was mailed to each registrant as proof of alien status.
Alien Registration Form (AR-2) from the Alien Case File for Victor Hinkelman (A2427853). Record Group 566, Records of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, Alien Case Files, 1944-2003. National Archives Identifier 5230784, National Archives at Kansas City.
Promotion of the Alien Registration Act primarily came through a series of radio public service announcements (PSAs) given by various government officials that cited participation in registration as supporting democracy and called on Americans to aid their alien neighbors in completing the registration process. A number of officials of foreign descent spoke to audiences of specific nationalities in their native tongue (i.e., German, Italian, Polish, etc.) in order to ease fears about the registration restricting or violating an alien’s rights. To bolster support, newspapers across the country captured numerous photographs of actors and musicians completing various components of the registration process.
Government officials expected a few million registrations to occur, but final counts saw over five million registration forms submitted.
Director Henry Koster and actress Anna Lee fill out the Alien Registration Form, 1940.
Photograph courtesy of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Historical Office and Library.
Beginning in April 1944, many of the Alien Registration Forms found a home in a new series of INS files, the Alien Files (A-Files), which were created utilizing the numbers assigned to each individual during the 1940 registration. The files were established as a means of tracking an alien’s experience as they moved through the immigration and inspection process within the United States up to the point of any final action which could include death, deportation, permanent resident status, or citizenship; and the Alien Registration Form was often the first form transferred into the file.
Alien Registration Forms are available for research at the National Archives within A-Files. To learn more about the A-Files and the record request process please visit: http://www.archives.gov/research/immigration/aliens/.