Denaturalization Act of 1944/Public Law 78-405


On July 1, 1944, the President signed Public Law 78-405, otherwise known as the Denaturalization Act of 1944, which allowed citizens to renounce their citizenship. In October of the same year, instructions were sent to all the camps to help facilitate the process.

Background to Legislation

Passage of Public Law 78-405 came in response to the unexpected response to the loyalty registration program in 1943, and the continued unrest in response to the restoration of Selective Service for Nisei in 1944. One of the ways in which Americans of Japanese ancestry expressed their frustration with their unconstitutional wartime treatment was by refusing to swear unqualified allegiance to the United States and foreswear allegiance to the Emperor of Japan as requested on the loyalty questionnaire. The groundswell of resistance seen through the negative and qualified responses to the loyalty questionnaire caught War Relocation Authority (WRA) officials by surprise. They had not expected individuals to use the questionnaire as a means of protest. Others expressed their dissent by requesting repatriation to Japan if they were Issei, or expatriation to Japan if they were Nisei. Based on oral history testimony and interviews conducted by the Department of Justice and WRA administrators with those who requested repatriation or expatriation, many chose this as a method of expressing a lack of faith in the America after being incarcerated without due process. Others realized their futures in the United States was uncertain and thought that perhaps they might have an easier time resettling in Japan after the war. This was especially true for Issei who retained ties to family or who held property in Japan. Entire families requested repatriation/expatriation in an effort to keep the family together. By the end of 1942, 2,255 individuals requested repatriation to Japan, most of whom were Issei. By 1943, in response to loyalty registration, dissent over creation of the segregated all-Nisei combat unit, and continued incarceration, the number of repatriation requests skyrocketed to over nine thousand. Most new applicants in 1943 were Nisei. By 1944, the number of repatriation and expatriation requests topped out at nearly twenty thousand, or 16 percent of the total incarcerated population.

In response to such high numbers of voluntary requests for repatriation and expatriation, and the high numbers of individuals who refused to swear unqualified allegiance to the United States (5,333 individuals answered question 28 of the loyalty questionnaire negatively), Martin Dies approached Attorney General Francis Biddle in December of 1943 for some advice about how to respond to the growing numbers of individuals seeking repatriation and expatriation to Japan. Biddle suggested amending the Nationality Act of 1940 to allow citizens residing in the United States to voluntarily renounce their citizenship. Even though the Naturalization Act of 1940 had provided eight methods for divesting American citizens of their citizenship, the right was not available to those residing in the United States.

Hearings on Proposed Legislation

Congress held hearings on H.R. 4103 in January 1944, "Loss of United States Nationality Under Certain Circumstances." Referring to the right of expatriation, H.R. 4103 would expand this right to persons residing in the United States who during a time of war wished to renounce his/her citizenship. Previous to consideration of H.R. 4103, that right was reserved for persons residing abroad. Even though representatives considering the bill insisted that the bill was not specifically written for Nisei, they recognized that Nisei would be the largest population affected by the proposed law. Representative from California J. Leroy Johnson estimated that between 300 and 1,000 Nisei might take advantage of the proposed law. His estimate was low. The House passed H.R. 4103 by a vote of 111 to 23 on February 23, 1944. The House rejected a competing bill that was supported by some West Coast legislators that would have interpreted "past expressions of disloyalty" as proof of renunciation by a vote of 82 to 76.[1]

The Senate held hearings on H.R. 4103 on June 23, 1944. Richard B. Russell (D-Georgia) testified that the purpose of the bill was to provide an opportunity for those Nisei, particularly Kibei, who felt loyalty to the Emperor to renounce their citizenship and for the United States to be able to deport those who voluntarily renounced their citizenship in exchange for prisoners of war held by Japan. The bill passed the Senate committee with little discussion and no opposition. On July 1, 1944, the President signed Public Law 78-405.

Consequences of Legislation

Between 1944 and 1946, 5,589 Nisei renounced their citizenship, 5,461 of this total were from Tule Lake alone. Most had renounced their citizenship under duress and almost immediately began seeking ways to restore their citizenship. American Civil Liberties Union lawyer Wayne Collins fought on behalf of renunciants, and by 1965 nearly all had successfully regained their citizenship. A total of 3,000 Issei and 1,327 Nisei were identified for deportation to Japan. Many of those slated for deportation were among those who had renounced their citizenship and/or requested repatriation under duress and sought to reverse their decisions with the assistance of civil rights attorney Wayne Collins. With his assistance, the numbers of individuals deported to Japan after the war was reduced to 1,327, and by 1965, nearly all those who wanted their citizenship restored had their cases resolved.

Authored by Cherstin M. Lyon, California State University, San Bernardino

For More Information

Christgau, John. "Collins versus the World: The Fight to Restore Citizenship to Japanese American Renunciants of World War II". Pacific Historical Review 54.1 (February 1985): 1-31.

Collins, Donald E. Native American Aliens: Disloyalty and the Renunciation of Citizenship by Japanese Americans during World War II. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1985.

Daniels, Roger. Asian America: Chinese and Japanese in the United States since 1850. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1988.

Lyon, Cherstin. Prisons and Patriots: Japanese American Wartime Citizenship, Civil Disobedience, and Historical Memory. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2011.

"Loss of United States nationality under certain circumstances." 2 Congressional Record 1981–1992 (1944).

"Renunciation of American citizenship by certain citizens of Japanese ancestry." 2 Congressional Record 6616–6617 (1944).

Footnotes

  1. Pacific Citizen, February 26, 1944, p. 2.