A Roanoke mayor is getting national attention after citing the use of internment camps for Japanese-Americans during World War II to justify suspending the relocation of Syrian refugees to his city in Virginia.
After requesting that all Roanoke Valley agencies stop Syrian refugee assistance, Mayor David Bowers, a Democrat, wrote in a statement: "I'm reminded that President Franklin D. Roosevelt felt compelled to sequester Japanese foreign nationals after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, 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."
The comment has sparked outrage on social media from citizens of Roanoke and the rest of the country — including celebrities.
The Japanese internment camps, which detained about 120,000 Japanese-American men, women and children, are widely remembered as one of the U.S. government's most shameful acts. More than four decades after World War II, the U.S. government issued a formal apology and paid reparations to former Japanese internees and their heirs.
Actor and Japanese-American George Takei wrote on Facebook: "Mayor Bowers, there are a few key points of history you seem to have missed."
"The internment (not a "sequester") was not of Japanese "foreign nationals," but of Japanese Americans, two-thirds of whom were U.S. citizens," Takei writes. "I was one of them, and my family and I spent 4 years in prison camps because we happened to look like the people who bombed Pearl Harbor. It is my life's mission to never let such a thing happen again in America."
"The government's denial of liberty and freedom to over 100,000 individuals of Japanese descent — many of whom were citizens or legal residents and half of whom were children — is a dark stain on America's history that Mayor Bowers should learn from rather than seek to emulate," the group wrote.
President Obama's plan to bring 10,000 more Syrian refugees to the United States during the current budget year has drawn criticism from a number of states. At least 24 governors, expressing fears about terrorism, are taking action — through executive order, a request to federal officials or some other means — to prevent Syrian refugees from settling in their states. However, the federal government controls immigration, and states and cities have no say in stopping it.
Obama mocked critics of his administration's refugee policy Wednesday.
"Apparently, they're scared of widows and orphans coming into the United States of America as part of our tradition of compassion," Obama said in Manila in a joint press conference with Philippine President Benigno Aquino. "First, they were worried about the press being too tough on them during debates. Now they're worried about three-year-old orphans. That doesn't sound very tough to me."
Contributing: Trevor Hughes, Mary Troyan, Gregory Korte, USA TODAY; The Associated Press