In response to fears of war with France, President John Adams and Congress pushed through four laws– collectively known as the Alien and Sedition Acts– that limited the freedom of speech and of the press and represented some of the first federal deportation laws. The Alien and Sedition Acts authorized the detention or deportation of persons seen as posing political threats to the United States and those who emigrated from “hostile” nations and imposed more demanding requirements for naturalization. While the Sedition Act led to the prosecution and conviction of several newspaper owners, the deportation laws were generally not actively enforced at the time. The Adams administration also faced widespread criticism for these harsh laws. Nevertheless, the Alien Enemies Act of 1798, which authorized the President to detain, relocate, or deport immigrants from hostile countries in a time of war, is still in force in modified form.
An Act Concerning Aliens.
SECTION 1. Be it enacted by the Senate and the House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That it shall be lawful for the President of the United States at any time during the continuance of this act, to order all such aliens as he shall judge dangerous to the peace and safety of the United States, or shall have reasonable grounds to suspect are concerned in any treasonable or secret machinations against the government thereof, to depart out of the territory of the United States . . . And in case any alien, so ordered to depart, shall be found at large within the United States after the time limited in such order for his departure, and not having obtained a license from the President to reside therein, or having obtained such license shall not have conformed thereto, every such alien shall, on conviction thereof, be imprisoned for a term not exceeding three years, and shall never after be admitted to become a citizen of the United States.
An Act Respecting Alien Enemies
SECTION 1. Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That whenever there shall be a declared war between the United States and any foreign nation or government, or any invasion or predatory incursion shall be perpetrated, attempted, or threatened against the territory of the United States, by any foreign nation or government, and the President of the United States shall make public proclamation of the event, all natives, citizens, denizens, or subjects of the hostile nation or government, being males of the age of fourteen years and upwards, who shall be within the United States, and not actually naturalized, shall be liable to be apprehended, restrained, secured and removed, as alien enemies.