Is this true or just an Urban Legend?

I’ve heard that at one time (possibly about a hundred years ago) prospective immigrants (or maybe it was just visitors) to the USA had to fill out a form including the question:

"Do you intend to overthrow the Government of the United States by force or violence?"

Does anyone know if this could possibly be true? Surely the US government didn’t really expect anyone, even if they *were *bent on revolution, to answer this question in the affirmative?

(I’ve also heard that George Bernard Shaw, arriving in the USA for a speaking tour, and confronted with this question, wrote “Sole purpose of visit”. They let him in anyway.)

It sounds like BS to me, but could it possibly be true?

I applied for a visa to enter the USA a while back (perhaps 10 years); there were some questions very much like that on it; (from memory) one was “do you intend to enter the USA to carry out terrorist or subversive activities?”

Hell, on the application for citizenship it asks if you were a member of the Nazi party during the 30’s and through WWII.

It’s really funny to ask a Mexican national who was born in 1972 that question.

Here is the form; on page 2, it asks:

The other questions are all about your history/criminal record, etc - still things you might lie about, but not questions that read as being as naive as the above.

You can see the second page of the current visa waiver form, filled out by thousands of people travelling to America every day, here. While there’s no questions about overthrowing America, it’s concievable that earlier bureaucrats used more specific questioning to establish a possilble ‘threat’ to America.

The funniest bit by far, though, is the footnote:

The actual question was whether or not one was an anarchist. If you answered yes, you could be assumed to want to overthrow the government. Anarchists were barred from entering the country. I know this, because my grandfather, Riserio Restani had to attest, in 1906 or so as he got off the boat, that he was not, in fact, an anarchist. He also showed that he had $50.00 (I think that was the amount required) on him so that he wouldn’t hit the streets destitute. I have seen the paperwork from the Ellis Island foundation, showing his signature and testimony. Other than that, quite true.

I think the point is that if you lie on the form, it makes it easier for the government to prosecute or deport you.

Blimey. Truth is stranger than fiction. I never imagined for a minute that such a question would still be asked today. Even after 9/11 (it didn’t stop that, did it?).

It probably enhances the manner in which they can detain and question you as well.

Thats the newer form. They only phased those questions about overthrowing the US government in the last few years (when the DHS took over). It also use to ask about being a member of the communist party, being guilty of a crime of “moral turpitude” and whether you took part in any Nazi war crimes between the years 1933 and 1945 (which was intresting as it insisted the form had to be filled in by children 14 years and up).

The old form was still being used when I first came to the states, I wish I’d kept a copy :slight_smile:

It always interested me what happened to people from former Eastern Block countries, alot of whom had to be members of the communist party, and whether they go greif at customs for answering honestly.

I think I remember, when applying for a government job in 1961, signing a statement similar to the OP, that I have not in the past, now, or ever will seek to overthrow the government of the US. Hazy on this, but I think I"m right.

My stepfather did forced labor and prison time in the soviet union for subversive activities so he has to answer yes to any question asking if you have ever been convicted of a felony. Tehnically his felonies were “obstruction of justice” (refused to testify) and “aggravated vandalism” (spit on a portrait of a politburo memeber). Now, every time this comes up (like when getting his greencard), he has to appear in person and explain the situation. I believe this is so ridiculously common that nobody in the government is going to be surprised or confused by it.

As others have said, it’s not really intended to prevent people from entering the US. If you find out that someone is plotting something, you have a sure fire way to deport or arrest them by referring back to the form.

It’s the same reason there’s a place on the IRS form for ill-gotten income, or marijuan tax stamps. It makes it really easy to prosecute someone after the fact.

It is true. A year ago I was an arny recruiter. It is one of the questions on the application forms. well, its not phrased the same way, but its something like “Have you ever been a memeber of a party, organization, blah, blah, that seeks to overthrow the gov’t of the United States.”

It sounds silly, I know, but I understand why the question is there. Think about it…if you’re a member of such an organization and you say “no”, and enlist, but later on are found to be lying, they can easily discharge you for false enlistment. Plus, members of organizations like that are not good for morale for the most part.

IIRC correctly, there were similar questions on applications for government jobs in the 1980s as well.

“Um, I guess if I have to pick … I’d say force. I detest violence.”

Al Franken commented on the fact that immigrants were being asked if they had ever been a Communist but only if they had been a Nazi between 1933 and 1945. Franken said this made sense because at least you knew that anybody who joined the Nazi party in 1946 was no fair weather friend.

In 1988, in applying for a security clearance, I was asked if I had ever tried to change the government of the United States by other than constitutional means.

These questions were asked of all immigrants above the age of 16 years who were entering the United States, regardless of whether they were seeking citizenship. The Immigration Act of 1903 excluded “anarchists, or persons who believe in, or advocate, the overthrow by force or violence the government of the United States, or of all government, or of all forms of law, or the assassination of public officials.”

Lest you find that exclusion quaint, between 1894 and 1901 individual anarchists assassinated the heads of state of France, Austria, Italy, and the United States.

In 1950, “present and former membership in the Communist party or any other totalitarian party or its affiliates” were excluded.

An act of 1978 provided for the “exclusion and expulsion of aliens who persecuted others on the basis of race, religion, national origin, or political opinion under the direction of the Nazi government of Germany or its allies.”

Table of U.S. immigration legislation, 1790-1996.