In our holdings here in Philadelphia, we have over 2,500 Alien’s Applications for Permission to Depart. With the passing of the Wartime Measure Act in 1918, documentation for travel became a priority in the United States. During World War I, there was an influx of people moving between borders throughout the world, often without any form of official documentation. By implementing this Act, the United States could better control its borders by requiring all U.S. citizens to acquire a passport and non-citizens to acquire visas. These particular applications were submitted by aliens for permission to leave the U.S. and go to a specific country for a specified reason. More often than not, the requests were made to return to their home country and be reunited with family, take up a job, handle family matters, or work on newly inherited land they had acquired since emigrating. Included in the application files were photographs, extensive background information on the individual, list of residences, references, and their reason for requesting departure.
One example of these applications is shared here: Paolo Romano a resident of South Philadelphia. Romano’s departure was not immediately granted, due to the fact that crucial documents were missing from his application. Included in this file are also letters in which the Commissioner specifically requested that Mr. Romano to obtain proper documentation from the local draft board in Baltimore, Maryland. Mr. Romano responded to this request by explaining that he felt his life would be at risk if he went to Baltimore to secure the necessary permit. He believed that the Mafia had made him a marked man, and pleaded for his application to be granted without the form.
When asked for his reason for departure Romano wrote: “On account that my wife is dead, I have 2 children to take care of and because of the fact that I have been threatened to be killed by the so called (”Mafia”) or Black Hand.”
On November 11th, Paolo wrote:
“Without answering your letter, I respect as I have said verbally that it is absolutely impossible for me – in Baltimore, Maryland, because I have been condemned to death by dissolute persons – which – this great nation -----. Therefore I apply to the Federal Police and the legal measures that a permission will be given to me to leave the U.S. where my life is in great danger.”
The Commissioner wrote to the Chief of Foreign Permits Office on November 16th,
“The applicant was questioned by Inspector Zimmerman at the time the application was filed and he explained that he felt that he was a marked man although he had received no communication from anyone threatening his life, but that twice he had been shot at and other incidents had occurred which made him thank that someone was endeavoring to take his life; he could not explain what these “other incidents” were.”
In the end, the Commissioner granted his application to depart to Italy, even though Paolo’s application was not complete. The photograph of Paolo is shared below, but you can read his full application as well as thousands of others by visiting our research room.
This post was written by Megan Kelly, Research and Writing Intern with the National Archives at Philadelphia.
#NARA #PhillyArchives #wwi #immigration #mafia #theblackhand #alien
CITATION: Alien Application for Permission to Depart from the United States for Paolo Romano; 3; Office of the Commissioner, Philadelphia; RG 085 Immigration and Naturalization; National Archives at Philadelphia (567234) and (PH-3587).