Immigrants Faced Deportation for Political Activity

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Dominick SallittoDominick SallittoDominick Sallitto, an Italian immigrant who had lived in the United States for 16 years, was targeted for deportation by the United States Immigration Service in 1934. On April 11, he was arrested by immigration inspectors in Oakland and ordered deported to Fascist Italy.

Sallitto’s offense? He and his business partner Vincent Ferrero, an Italian who had lived in the U.S. for 31 years, rented a corner space in their Oakland restaurant to Marcus Graham, editor of the anarchist magazine, Man.

Troublesome Politics

The government had been trying to deport Graham since 1919, but was thwarted because Graham would not reveal the country where he was born. The Immigration Service also cited as evidence against Sallitto that he had chaired an anarchist meeting in San Francisco, where there had been a debate about the Reichstag fire in Germany. The charge claimed that the troublesome anarchist Graham, along with members of the Socialist Party and the Communist Party had all been in attendance.

Sallitto’s partner Ferrero was ordered to surrender at Ellis Island and be sent on the S.S. Vulcania back to Italy. Commissioner of Immigration, James L. Houghteling, said “this alien has not been in Italy for 31 years and has therefore taken no part in current political affairs and has no enemies in the land of this birth. Therefore I can see no objection to his deportation to Italy.” New York Congressman Emanuel Celler introduced a bill that would prevent Ferrero from being deported.

Unconscionable Hounding

Graham also did not fare well. His case opened the question of whether a philosophical anarchist, opposed to organized government, but not advocating the destruction of government by force and violence, should be subject to deportation under the immigration laws.

Graham was jailed for contempt of court for not revealing where he was born. The ACLU of Northern California asserted that his case revealed “official lawlessness, relentless, malicious and unconscionable hounding by immigration officials,” particularly by an “alien-baiting fascist-minded local immigrant inspector.”

Fifth Amendment a Defense

In his defense, Graham took the Fifth Amendment, claiming that he could not be compelled to be a witness against himself. Initially, the court refused to allow that defense, stating that the Fifth Amendment applies to criminal cases and that deportation is a civil case.

In 1938, however, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed Graham’s conviction for contempt of court, ruling that “the fact that deportation proceedings are civil in their nature does not prevent the privilege against self incrimination from being raised by a witness called upon to testify therein.”

Starting Over After 35 Years

Against this backdrop of arrest and deportation, thousands of people sent letters to Washington protesting the Sallitto deportation. ACLU attorney Austin Lewis also mounted a legal defense for the popular restaurant owner. After four years, the Department of Labor canceled the deportation and dropped the proceedings against him.

In 1938, Ferrero, after residing in the U.S. for 35 years, became a refugee in another land. He was ordered deported to Italy but accepted voluntary departure to another country because he feared imprisonment or death in Italy.

Longest Running Case

Although Sallitto was no longer under deportation orders, the “witch hunters in the local office of the immigration service” didn’t forget him. When he applied for naturalization in San Jose, inspector “Red” Farrelly testified against him. The court denied Sallitto’s application, and ACLU attorneys Wayne Collins and Lawrence Speiser appealed his case. After several rejections, Sallitto was granted U.S. citizenship in January 1954. At the time, his case was the longest running case on the ACLU docket.

Honored for Service

Thirty years later, Dominick Sallitto and his wife Aurora, were honored by the ACLU of Northern California with the Lola Hanzel Courageous Advocacy work for their outstanding work as civil liberties volunteers. Together, they had founded, built and maintained the Santa Clara Chapter of the ACLU. When they ascended the stage to accept the award, the crowd of 600 sat in awed silence, as the diminutive couple stood on tiptoe to reach the podium microphone. The audience roared in approval when Aurora, in a lilting Italian accent and a booming voice, said, “I hope the ACLU volunteers for civil liberties will always be here, and be true to the principles of freedom, justice and human dignity.”

Dom stood at her side, smiling but with tears in his eyes. Remembering, perhaps, his own arrest and the unjust deportation of his friend Vincent to an unknown destination.

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