Ellis Island, which once welcomed the arrival of those seeking new life on American shores, has become a holding cell for those no longer welcome in the U.S.

FBI agents from all over the United States, in addition to the police departments of New York City, Westchester County and Long Island, gathered in New York City to continue to round up and intern Japanese, German and Italian nationals between Sunday, December 7 and Tuesday, December 9.

President Franklin Roosevelt made the announcement on December 9 that Germans and Italians are now “alien enemies” of the United States, following the German and Italian declarations of war against America, as Nazi raids remain an imminent threat for the U.S.

The facility on Ellis Island, in New York harbor, where enemy nationals are being detained

The facility on Ellis Island, in New York harbor, where enemy nationals are being detained

The declaration of war represents a sudden shift for the U.S., which just one week ago was at peace.

While the FBI would not disclose the final count of how many people have been detained at Ellis Island, some reports estimate that the numbers could be 1,000 Japanese aliens and about 400 Italian and German aliens detained at this point. Another report said that 2,303 Axis nationals have been seized as of Thursday, December 11. It was revealed that not all would be permanently held.

All of the “enemy aliens”, as Attorney General Francis Biddle has called them, will be put on trial and most likely sent to detention camps. Some might be eligible for parole.

One of the Germans taken into custody was Kurt Sell, a U.S. correspondent for the German DNB News Agency. His credentials were taken as well.

In addition to the internment, detectives have placed the Japanese consulate in New York City under guard, having confiscated all the documents they could find.

Biddle said that none of those apprehended individuals were apprehended because of their nationality alone, and none will be.

“Every one of those taken into Federal custody had been under observation for more than a year, and has been listed either as a dangerous alien or one it was considered that it would be unwise not to apprehend,” Biddle said.

New York is not the only city cracking down on Axis nationals. The Panama Canal Zone police, along with Panamanian authorities, gathered German, Italian, and Japanese aliens for internment and placed the area under military guard.

All Japanese funds in Panama have been frozen, and the same has happened to those in Peru. Panama, Peru and 18 other nations neighboring the U.S. all expressed sympathy toward the war effort in similar ways due to economic necessity.

Restrictions have been placed on the Germans, Italians and Japanese who remain in the U.S. For example, they are forbidden to possess arms, weapons, explosives, radios, cameras, or any information regarding military supplies or strategies. They are forbidden to go to the Panama Canal, Alaska or Puerto Rico unless allowed permission to do so by the attorney general.


“367 Arrested Here.” The New York Times. December 10, 1941,  pg. 30.

“All for One.” Time. December 15, 1941, pg. 27.

“Nazi Raids Threaten U.S., President Warns; Germans, Italians Classed as Alien Foes.” The Washington Post. December 10, 1941, pg. 9.

Press, T. A. “Bulletins: 133 Japs Interned in N.Y.” The Washington Post. December 9, 1941, pg. 1.

Press, T. A. “Canal Zone Police Seize Axis Nationals.” The Washington Post. December 9, 1941, pg. 1941.

“Seize 2,303 Aliens of Axis Nations.” The New York Times. December 11, 1941, pg. 24.