Roanoke Mayor Blasted For Reference To Japanese Internment Camps While Refusing Syrian Refugees

Roanoke Mayor David Bowers just did the unthinkable: he invoked the history of WWII Japanese internment camps when talking about Syrian refugees. The Roanoke Mayor expressed his feelings in a statement calling on government employees and agencies to do everything in their power to suspend and/or delay any further refugees from Syria or assistance for said refugees within the Roanoke Valley. The reaction to the comments of the Roanoke Mayor, which have been labeled as insensitive towards the Syrian community and the Japanese community as well, has largely been one of overwhelming shock and outrage.

Mayor Bowers

Market Watch is reporting that social media, and Twitter in particular, has gone crazy over the words of the mayor. Mayor Bowers, a Democrat, follows in the footsteps of many other politicians (predominantly but not exclusively Republican governors) who have publicly stated they’ll do everything in their power to stop the relocation of Syrian refugees in their respective states following the Paris terror attacks of November 13.


While the entirety of Roanoke Mayor Bowers’ statement was offensive to many, there were two direct quotes that seemed to ruffle more feathers than the rest. In addition to bringing up the subject of internment camps while discussing Syrian refugees in the United States, the Roanoke Mayor also got downright insulting about the nature of the Syrian refugees worth.

“…everything is and will be done to protect Roanokers from harm and danger from this present scourge upon the earth.”

The wording and the context of the letter leads readers to believe that Roanoke Mayor Bowers believes the Syrian refugees to be “the scourge of the earth.” But only the present scourge of the earth. Meaning, at least in the mind of the mayor, there must have been a previous group that deserved the title. Perhaps the Mayor of Roanoke was referring to the Japanese-Americans who were held in interment camps during following the Pearl Harbor attack that preceded the U.S.’s involvement in WWII?

Regardless of precisely who Roanoke Mayor Bowers considers to be “the present scourge of the earth,” he seems to have forgotten a bit of critical U.S. history when penning his statement. First and foremost, those of Japanese descent who were forcibly relocated and housed in internment camps in WWII were not Japanese nationals or citizens. They were not refugees, Mayor Bowers. They were Japanese-Americans, citizens of the U.S.

Japanese Internment Camp

In addition, despite the thoughtless words of a Roanoke Mayor invoking this blight on America’s history in his statement, the U.S. government officially apologized for it’s treatment of Japanese-American internment victims almost 30 years ago, in 1988.

Since last Friday’s terror attacks in Paris, the (predominantly Republican) governors of more than a dozen U.S. states have stated that they’d refuse to accept Syrian refugees, PBS reports. Unfortunately for them, as well as for Roanoke Mayor David Bowers, the decision whether or not to accept refugees from Syria (or anywhere else) is not one that a governor has the authority to make. When it comes to refugees, the decision whether or not to allow them into the U.S. or a specific state isn’t one for the Mayor of Roanoke to make. Rather, it is solely at the discretion of the sitting president, per the Refugee Act of 1980.

“President Obama has explicit statutory authorization to accept foreign refugees into the United States.”

President Obama has had a very different reaction to the admission of Syrian refugees in the U.S. than the Mayor of Roanoke, too. He has stated that 10,000 displaced Syrian refugees would be welcomed into the United States this budget year. He also has some strong words for anti-refugee governors (and presumably at least one mayor) about their efforts to block refugees from being relocated within their borders. Specifically, that it’s not “very tough” to be worried about “3-year old orphans.”

Migrant Child

Unfortunately for Mayor Bowers, he lacks both the authority to keep refugees out of the Roanoke Valley and the support of the Governor of Virginia, ABC News reports. While Republican legislators in the state have stated that they are drafting bills that would keep refugees out of Virginia for the next two years, Governor Terry McAuliffe has refused to take any action to keep refugees from being resettled in the state over that same.

Unlike the Roanoke mayor, Governor McAuliffe seems to understand the legal role of the individual states when it comes to handling refugees. The governor’s spokesman, Brian Coy, outlined the state’s role in refugee resettlement.

“The state’s role is to offer advice on where refugees be resettled in the state, and to offer services to the refugees once they’ve arrived. Those services are entirely funded by the federal government.”

Roanoke Mayor Bowers had already announced that he wouldn’t be seeking reelection for his fifth term during the next election cycle prior to today’s statement. During the previous fiscal year, 25 Syrians were resettled in Virginia. There are no reports of any one of them terrorizing the domain of Roanoke Mayor David Bowers since their relocation.

[Image Courtesy Of Spencer Platt/Gett Images]