Several thousand Germans and Austrians were interned during World War I, suspected of being agents or spies. ANow that the war had ended a few months prior, it was time for most of them to be released:
But the department believes that the greater number of the persons now behind the wire fences should be sent out of the country. The majority are regarded as having been “distinctly dangerous during the war.”
So what should be done with them? A bill was introduced in Congress that would allow any of them to be unilaterally deported by the Secretary of Labor — a man named William B. Wilson, no relation to then-President Woodrow Wilson.
The heads of the House and Senate committees with jurisdiction over the subject took opposing views, even though they were both southerners from the same party.
In favor was the House Immigration Committee Chair, Rep. John Burnett (D-AL7):
He takes the stand of the Department of Justice that the majority of the interned aliens are dangerous and should be deported. He believes that the measure will pass his committee successfully… The fact of internment or conviction is defined by the bill as prima facie evidence that the aliens are “undesirable,” and the decision of the Secretary of Labor is to be final.
Opposed was the Senate Immigration Committee Chair, Sen. Thomas Hardwick (D-GA):
“If I retain my present frame of mind I shall certainly not vote for any law giving one man the power to determine who should be deported. This might be done in wartime. But in peacetime, no! I would consent to a law allowing a trial by jury of these people. But I could not consent to giving this power to one man. This is not Russia!”
As best I can tell, this specific bill didn’t pass Congress, but all the several thousand people interned were eventually deported back to their nations of citizenship — the last in April 1920, a year and a half after the war ended.
Shall We Deport the Interned Aliens?: Representative Burnett’s Bill in Congress Is Enlisting Strong Support, but Has Aroused Opposition, Including Senator Hardwick’s
Published: Sunday, March 2, 1919