(ROANOKE, Va.) — The mayor of Roanoke, Virginia, has joined dozens of elected officials in the country in trying to block Syrian refugee resettlement in the wake of recent ISIS attacks, but appears to have become the first to invoke Japanese internment as the reason to do so.
In a statement, Democratic mayor David Bowers used President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s detention of Japanese-Americans during World War II to defend his position.
“President Franklin D. Roosevelt felt compelled to sequester Japanese foreign nationals after the bombing of Pearl Harbor,” the statement reads, “and it appears that the threat of harm to America from ISIS now is just as real and serious as that from our enemies then.”
Roosevelt’s 1944 policy forced more than 100,000 Japanese-Americans into internment camps. In 1988, President Ronald Reagan formally apologized for the policy and more than $1 billion in reparations have been paid to former internees.
Bowers’s comments have drawn swift and extensive backlash. Susan Swecker, the chairwoman of the Democratic Party of Virginia, said on Twitter that his rhetoric is “deplorable.” Well-known Japanese-American actor George Takei, wrote an extensive post on Facebook in which he tells Bowers: “you demonstrably have failed to learn the most basic of American civics or history lessons.”
Bowers’ stance counters that of Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who has said his state will continue to accept Syrian refugees.
Bowers could not be immediately reached for comment.
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