US & Canada

Roanoke mayor uses internment camps to justify refugee policy

Syrian refugee children watch Martin Keown, a former British soccer player for Arsenal, as he speaks to them during the official opening of Save the Children"s new soccer field at the Al Zaatri refugee camp in the Jordanian city of Mafraq, near the border with Syria, May 2, 2013. Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The attacks in Paris have prompted many US officials to call for a "pause" in accepting Syria refugees

The mayor of Roanoke, Virginia, has come under criticism after he appeared to endorse the internment of Japanese Americans during World War Two.

In a letter, David Bowers wrote that Syrian refugees should not be resettled in his city, citing security concerns.

To highlight the point, he compared the concern over the refugees to the 1940s internment of Japanese Americans.

The internment camps - now considered illegal - are widely considered to be an embarrassing period in US history.

"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 threat of harm to America from [IS] now is just as real and serious as that from our enemies then," Mr Bowers, a Democrat, wrote.

More than 30 US governors have said they do not want Syria refugees resettled in their states after recent attacks in Paris tied to the so-called Islamic State killed more than 100 people.

Although the governors do not have the legal authority to do so, they can complicate the resettlement process. US President Barack Obama called their response "hysterical".

Image copyright YouTube
Image caption Mr Bowers wrote Syrian refugees should not resettle in Roanoke in light of the Paris attacks
Image copyright Twitter
Image caption The letter was the subject on sharp criticism on social media

Virginia Republicans sought to distance themselves from Mr Bowers' remarks.

"Comparing the prudent step of pausing to evaluate a vetting processes to the unconstitutional internment of American citizens proves that Democrats simply don't understand national security," John Whitbeck, the chairman of the Virginia Republican Party, said in a statement.

The letter drew also ridicule on social media with celebrities condemning Mr Bowers.

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 US citizens," Mr Takei wrote.

"I was one of them, and my family and I spent four years in prison camps because we happened to look like the people who bombed Pearl Harbour. It is my life's mission to never let such a thing happen again in America."

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