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Major Victory for Italian-American Community as Wartime Violations Act Passes Congress; Goes to President

Sons of Italy® Instrumental in Passing Bill

Contact: Diane E. Crespy, (202) 547-2900

Washington, D.C., Oct. 24, 2000 - The Order Sons of Italy in America® (OSIA) has commended the Senate today for passing the Wartime Violations of Italian American Civil Liberties Act, or H.R. 2442, which calls for the president on behalf of the U.S. government to acknowledge the violation of Italian Americans' basic human rights during World War II, and requires the Justice Department to compile reports on the treatment of Italian Americans during the war.

The bill next goes to President Clinton to sign. OSIA representatives hope for a signing ceremony at the White House in the coming month.

"The Order Sons of Italy in America® is very pleased that Congress recognizes the importance of acknowledging this shameful period in our history, though we do not necessarily believe there is heroism or nobility in victimization," said OSIA National Executive Director Philip R. Piccigallo. "Rather, the real value of this legislation, besides the rescuing of these events from historical oblivion, may also be the connection these events have today to the continual negative stereotyping and wrongful misrepresentations that hurt, impede, stigmatize, damage reputations and obstruct opportunities."

OSIA, the largest and longest-existing organization of American men and women of Italian heritage, has been an active supporter of the bill since Reps. Rick Lazio (R-N.Y.) and Elliot Engel (D-N.Y.) introduced it July 1, 1999. OSIA members and Piccigallo testified on Oct. 26, 1999, to the House Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on the Constitution and have continuously advocated to Congress on behalf of the bill, which passed the House of Representatives Nov.11, and was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee Nov. 19.

During World War II more than 600,000 Italian Americans lost their jobs, had household items such as radios confiscated, and were moved to internment camps, forced to remain within five miles of their home, subjected to curfews, separated from their families, forced to carry enemy alien identification cards, put on trial, and treated as a threat to national security despite the lack of any evidence indicating they were involved in espionage.

Though many Americans are aware of the Japanese-American internment during the war, the internment of Italian Americans remains largely unknown. There is no mention in history textbooks; the tragic episode is not included in World War II documentary or historically based Hollywood films. Few realize that even baseball great Joe Di Maggio's father was forced to give up his livelihood, fishing, even though his sons had served in the U.S. armed forces. This general lack of knowledge about these events prompted Lazio and Engel to introduce the bill.

"We owe it to the Italian-American community, especially those who endured these abuses, to recognize the injustices of the past. Documentation and education about the suffering of all groups of Americans who face persecution is important in order to ensure that no group's civil liberties are ever violated again," Engel told the Subcommittee on the Constitution during the October 1999 hearing. The bill also states "financial support should be provided for the education of the American public through the production of a documentary film suited for public broadcast."

OSIA has also been a strong supporter of a traveling exhibit that brought to light the civil rights violations of Italian Americans' civil liberties. "Una Storia Segreta," or "A Secret Story," was created by the American Italian Historical Association, Western Regional Chapter and contains letters, memorabilia, artifacts, and photos that tell the story of the internment.

For more information on the Order Sons of Italy in America®n and its other initiatives and programs, please visit OSIA's official Web site, email, or call (202) 547-2900.