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Virginia Mayor Cites WWII Japanese Internment Camps as Precedent for Refusing Syrian Refugees

David Bowers, the Democratic mayor of Roanoke, Virginia, referenced the infamous internment of Japanese Americans during WWII in saying the city will refuse Syrian refugees.
Photo by Mark J. Terrill/AP

Another Democrat has joined the growing number of Republicans calling for the US to suspend the resettlement of Syrian refugees following a series of deadly foreign terror attacks committed by the Islamic State.

David Bowers, the mayor of Roanoke, Virginia, issued a statement on Wednesday saying that after recent events — including the downing of a Russian airliner that killed all 224 people aboard and the Paris attacks that left 129 dead — he has become "convinced" that it is "imprudent" to "assist in the relocation of Syrian refugees to our part of Virginia."


But the mayor, who announced last week that he won't seek reelection, also went one step further, suggesting that a policy similar to the infamous internment of Japanese Americans during WWII may be applicable to Syrians in the current situation.

"I'm reminded that President Franklin D. Roosevelt felt compelled to sequester Japanese foreign nationals after the bombing of Pearl Harbor," he said, "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."

Related: This Lone Democratic Governor Is Calling For the US to Reject Syrian Refugees

After the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Roosevelt issued an executive order that led to 120,000 Japanese Americans — mostly US citizens or legal permanent residents — being imprisoned without due process for up to four years in facilities that Roosevelt himself called "concentration camps." Half of the prisoners were children.

In 1988, Congress passed a bill admitting that the interments were "a grave injustice" and granting $20,000 in reparations to each victim. The payments were delivered with a signed apology from the president on behalf of the American people.

Japanese citizens gather at a train which will take them from the Santa Anita assembly camp in California to the internment camp at Gila River, Ariz. in 1942. (AP Photo/National Archives)

The mayor's remarks come two days after New Hampshire Governor Maggie Hassan became the first Democrat to split from her party in calling for the US to halt the resettlement of Syrian refugees "until intelligence and defense officials can assure that the process for vetting all refugees, including those from Syria, is as strong as possible to ensure the safety of the American people."


Hassan joined governors in at least 23 other states — all Republican — that have made similar demands amid ongoing investigations into the backgrounds and nationalities of the Paris attackers. All of the suspects identified thus far have been French or Belgian nationals. A Syrian passport was reportedly found near one attacker, but new evidence suggests the document was likely forged.

Related: Jeb Bush Is Cool With Syrian Refugees Who Can 'Prove' They Are Christian

The White House this week stood firmly by its promise to resettle 10,000 Syrian refugees in the US next year. The number pales in comparison to the commitments of other European and North American partners. Germany, for example, has pledged to take in 1 million refugees next year. On Wednesday, French President Francois Hollande said the country would welcome 30,000 refugees over the next two years — an increase over the 24,000 France had vowed to accept prior to the attacks. Hollande said France will spend $53.3 million developing housing for refugees, who will have to undergo a security screening.

"Those who live in those countries, particularly in territories controlled by the Islamic State, are being battered and are fleeing; they are victims of the same terrorist system," Hollande said on Monday. "This is why it is vital for Europe to welcome with dignity those who are eligible for asylum, and to send back to their countries those who aren't, which requires — and this is not yet the case today — an efficient protection of our external borders."

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