Should Italian Americans Seek Reparations?

By Daniel Nardini

Lawndale News Chicago's Bilingual Newspaper - CommentaryDuring World War II, the U.S. government threw 60,000 Italian immigrants in internment camps, and forced hundreds of thousands of Italian immigrants and Americans of Italian descent from the east and west coasts of the United States for being what was described as “enemy aliens.” Like the Japanese immigrants and Japanese Americans, Italian immigrants and Italian Americans were seen as a “threat” and possible supporters of Fascist Italy. Despite the fear, there was never any evidence that this was the case. The U.S. government never found any Italian immigrants to be traitors to the United States, and certainly no American citizen of Italian descent was ever found to be a spy for the Axis powers. This did not change the fact that the U.S. government put innocent people in prison, separated whole families, and confiscated their property. Italian Americans rights and civil liberties were totally violated, and lives were ruined.

In 2000, U.S. President Bill Clinton signed the Wartime Violation of Italian American Civil Liberties Act. This act was a formal apology by the U.S. government that the United States did indeed do wrong against the Italian American communities throughout the country and that such government acts should never be allowed to happen again. In 2010, the State of California formally apologized to all Italian American residents for the wholesale violations of the rights of Italian immigrants and U.S. citizens of Italian descent during World War II. There is a bill before the U.S. Congress that would provide “compensation” for Italian Americans. But this compensation is NOT money. Rather, it is funding for teaching about the history of how Italian immigrants suffered discrimination in this country and their contributions (despite what they suffered) to America.

At present, there have been no lawsuits filed by any Italian American for what their families may have suffered during World War II, and a few of those who did suffer during that time are still alive. I think that most Italian Americans realize that an apology has been made, and that going any further would open a legal Pandora’s box. This is another reason why trying to have “reparations” for African Americans is a slippery slope to further dividing this country. There are no people from the time period of slavery who are alive today, and many Americans today did not even have ancestry in this country before and during the U.S. Civil War (1861-1865). Why make them pay for what their ancestors did not do? The whole issue may make great talking points for Democrat candidates in an election year, but it makes for very, very bad policy. It could in fact cause strife, conflict and even war in a country already too dangerously divided.

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