Virginia mayor receives backlash over refugee policy

The mayor of Roanoke, Virginia is under fire for comments using the U.S. government’s internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II to justify his stance on Syrian refugees.

Mayor David Bowers said in a statement Wednesday that relocation efforts by governmental and non-governmental agencies should be halted "until these serious hostilities and atrocities end" or are brought under control.”

"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 (ISIS) now is just as real and serious as that from our enemies then," Bowers said.

More than four decades after World War II, the U.S. government issued a formal apology and paid reparations to former Japanese internees and their heirs.

American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia Executive Director Claire Guthrie Gastanaga said she was appalled that Bowers would urge agencies "to single out refugees on the basis of their race, ethnicity, or nationality. It is an effort that plays into the very fear that terrorists seek to inspire, and threatens the principles for which the United States stands."

Gastanaga also slammed Bowers’ comments about the camps, which she said was "a dark stain on America's history that Mayor Bowers should learn from rather than seek to emulate."

Bowers, a Democrat, also received criticism from his own party for the comments.

State Democratic Party chairwoman Susan Swecker called his comments “absolutely wrong” and state Republican Party chairman John Whitbeck said they were “offensive and ignorant.”

In his statement, Bowers cited Friday's attacks in Paris that killed 129 people and wounded more than 350, and the Oct. 31 bombing of a Russian airliner over Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, killing all 224 on board. ISIS militants have claimed responsibility for both.

Bowers reassured residents that law enforcement and public safety agencies in Roanoke are prepared to protect them "from harm and danger from this present scourge upon the earth."

President Barack Obama wants to bring an additional 10,000 Syrian refugees to the U.S. during the current budget year. The federal government controls immigration, leaving states and cities with no say in stopping it despite more than 30 governors opposing the plan.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.