ROANOKE, Va. — A Virginia mayor who cited the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II as he rejected the settlement of Syrian refugees in his city apologized for his remarks on Friday — but refused calls to resign.
Roanoke Mayor David Bowers, a Democrat, vowed to stay in office and work on improving the city’s reputation.
“I know there have been calls for me to resign over this incident. I know council members have received those calls as well,” he said. “I hope and pray that you, my fellow council members, and the Roanoke community will accept my genuine and heartfelt apology.”
He added: “I anticipated that the statement might receive some coverage in the Roanoke Valley, but I did not in any way anticipate that it would trend internationally over the Internet.”
On Wednesday, Bowers issued a statement saying Roanoke would no longer welcome refugees fleeing war-torn Syria to prevent the possibility of terrorists coming to the small southwest Virginia city.
At one point in the letter, he invoked the infamous World War II policy that has long been regarded as a shameful episode in U.S. 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 the threat of harm to America from ISIS now is just as real and serious as that from our enemies then,” Bowers wrote.
Bowers’ comments came during a widespread political debate on whether the U.S. should allow Syrian refugees given the possibility that terrorists could infiltrate their ranks. The House this week passed legislation to toughen screening procedures, every GOP presidential candidate has called for a pause in admitting refugees and Donald Trump said he would “certainly implement” a database of U.S. Muslims, adding that he would consider shutting down mosques.
“As the mayor of Roanoke, to you our city, to each member of this council and all my friends and supporters who have held me in the highest esteem, I want to say today that I apologize to all those offended by my remarks. No one else is to be blamed but me,” Bowers said Friday.