The Shameful Moment In History One Politician Wants To Bring Back

Photo: Popperfoto/Getty Images
The mayor of Roanoke, VA, seems to have a hankering for a different time — one that he doesn’t seem to actually understand. Mayor David Bowers released a statement on Wednesday morning that is going viral because of its tone-deaf appropriation of history and glossing over of one of America’s most shameful acts.

The Roanoke Times reported early Wednesday that Mayor Bowers had released a statement in which he called for area governments and agencies to deny help to the federal government as it relocates Syrian refugees. In it, he chose to praise one of the most universally reviled violations of civil rights that the American government has ever perpetrated.

“I’m reminded that President Franklin D. Roosevelt felt compelled to sequester Japanese foreign nationals after the bombing of Pearl Harbor," Bowers 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.”
What Bowers is talking about is Executive Order 9066, which was signed by President Roosevelt in 1941, two months after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor that brought the United States into World War II. The order forced over 100,000 American citizens of Japanese descent into internment camps, where they remained for the next few years. Internees were forced to give up businesses, houses, schooling, jobs, and the majority of their worldly possessions. The relocation, known to history as the Japanese internment, was based on racist assumptions that Japanese-Americans were a threat to the security of the United States as it entered a state of war with Japan. Today, the internment is understood to be an enormous violation of civil rights.

The comparison is especially appalling since so many of the Syrian refugees are suffering in camps at this very moment. The Guardian has reported on dehumanizing conditions in camps and the plight of refugees has repeatedly been compared to that of Jewish refugees in WWII.
One of the most famous internees, actor George Takei, has been open and consistent in his denouncement of the internment. His most recent project, the Broadway musical Allegiance, is the story of families and individuals caught up in the internment. On Wednesday night, he posted to Facebook to denounce the mayor's statement.

Earlier today, the mayor of Roanoke, Virginia, Mr. David A. Bowers, in the attached letter, joined several state...

Posted by George Takei on Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Sadly, Mayor Bowers is not the only one who's allowing myths and boogeymen to color his views. More than two-dozen state governors have said that they would not support having Syrian refugees entering their states due to fears of terrorism, despite evidence that refugees are unlikely to be terrorists. Senator Chuck Schumer, a Democrat from New York who is likely to be the Senate Minority Leader in the next year, has also said that a halt to resettlement "may be necessary," The Hill reports. While most of the political criticism up until now has been from Republican politicians, Schumer's potential backing of a halt is a break with the Democratic line and may spell trouble for the refugee program. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan has also called for a "pause" in resettlement.
Admission of refugees is ultimately at the discretion of the President, and Obama doesn't seem to be budging. "Slamming the door in their faces would be a betrayal of our values," he said on Monday.

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