With the declaration of war on April 6, 1917, President Woodrow Wilson called on residents in the United States, citizen and immigrant alike, to loyally uphold all laws and to support all measures adopted in order to protect the nation and secure peace. All natives, citizens, denizens, or subjects of Germany and its allies (including American-born women who married German men) living in the United States were termed “alien enemies.” For these individuals, showing loyalty required a number of additional parameters and processes.
Wilson’s declaration of war included twelve regulations that restricted the conduct of alien enemies in the United States. Broadly, the regulations barred owning firearms, established a permit process to reside/work in areas deemed as restricted zones or to depart the United States, laid out policies regarding threats and attacks against the United States, and condemned all aid to the enemy.
Growing concern over potential espionage by German immigrants living in the United States prompted inclusion of eight additional regulations in November 1917. Among these, Regulation 19 instituted a requirement for enemy alien registration. Registration involved completing a four-page form that required the registrant to provide family information, details of immigration, a physical description, a photograph, and fingerprints.
More than 480,000 German enemy aliens were registered, 200,000 permits were issued, and 6,300 enemy aliens were arrested under Presidential Arrest Warrants.
There are no surviving master lists of registrations, permits, or arrests.
In fact, very few records of the enemy alien registration and permitting processes exist today. The records that do survive are incomplete. The series identified below are the only known registration records currently maintained by the National Archives. Researchers should be aware that enemy alien registration records have been identified at a variety of locations outside the National Archives, including state archives, historical societies, and county libraries. To date, the only states with known surviving enemy alien registration records are: Arizona, Arkansas, California, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota (state registration), New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oregon, and Wisconsin.
Records of U.S. Attorneys and Marshals (Record Group 118)
The U.S. Marshals were tasked with the responsibility for enemy alien registration, permitting, and general enforcement, but very few of the records related to these processes exist today. Records from the United States Marshals in three states survive: Kansas, Minnesota, and Nebraska.
- District of Kansas: “Enemy Alien Registration Affidavits, 1917-1921” (NAID 286181)
- District of Kansas: “Alien Application Permits, 1917-1918” (NAID 5917758)
- District of Kansas: “Lists of Permits Issued to Enemy Aliens, 1918-1918” (NAID 5917760)
- District of Minnesota: “Reports on Aliens, 1917-1919” (NAID 5821666)
- District of Minnesota: “Reports of Special Agents, 1917-1918” (NAID 5923162)
- District of Nebraska: “Correspondence Relating to Enemy Alien and Espionage Act Violations, 1917-1919” (NAID 5917191)
Records of District Courts of the United States (Record Group 21)
The United States District Courts were not directly involved in administering the enemy alien control program. For unknown reasons, four courts maintained incomplete records of the registration process within their geographic jurisdiction.
- U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky. Frankfort Term: “Alien Enemy Registrations, 1917-1920” (NAID 5752917)
- U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina. Raleigh Term: “Alien Registration Affidavits, 1918-1918” (NAID 5889371)
- U.S. District Court for the Phoenix Division of the District of Arizona: “Alien Registration Affidavits, 1918-1918” (NAID 160920782)
- U.S. District Court for the Shreveport Division of the Western District of Louisiana: “Lists and Forms Relating to Alien Registration, 1918-1918” (NAID 4706580)
Records of the Post Office Department (Record Group 28)
The Post Office Department was not directly involved in administering the enemy alien control program. The agency retained a small sample of registration affidavits.
- Post Office Department: “Sample of Registration Affidavits of Alien Females in Wisconsin, June 21-28, 1918” (NAID 38983236)
To learn more about additional World War I enemy alien records at the National Archives, visit https://www.archives.gov/research/immigration/enemy-aliens.