Manzanar Committee Condemns Statement By Roanoke, Virginia Mayor David Bowers Regarding Syrian Refugees

LOS ANGELES — On November 18, the Manzanar Committee repudiated statements by David Bowers, Mayor, Roanoke, Virginia, in which he used the unjust incarceration of over 120,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry as justification for his demand that Syrian refugees be denied asylum in the Roanoke area.

In an official statement, Bowers said, “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.”

Manzanar Committee Co-Chair Bruce Embrey rejected Bowers’ remarks out of hand.

“Mayor Bowers may be just one of many who are using the despicable terrorist acts in Paris for political gain, but his outrageous statement exposes the dangers of unbridled xenophobia, racism and racial profiling during times of crisis,” he said. “How anyone, much less a public official, can cite the World War II incarceration of the Japanese American community as rationale for any policy in this day and age is simply outrageous.”

“Apparently, Mayor Bowers never bothered to learn that President Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066 was repealed by President Gerald Ford, that the United States Congress passed the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 to redress the fundamental unconstitutional nature of the forced removal, and that Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush apologized to those incarcerated without charges, without due process, simply because they looked like the enemy.”

Embrey emphasized that Bowers is not alone, in terms of his ignorance of our nation’s history, as well as his blatant political opportunism.

“While it took decades of struggle, Congressional hearings, and intense lobbying by many to win the passage of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, there are some in our country who fail to understand the illegal and unconstitutional nature of Executive Order 9066,” Embrey lamented. “The text of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 cites racism, wartime hysteria, and the failure of political leadership as the driving forces behind the incarceration of the Japanese American community. Unfortunately, these words can easily describe what is going on today.”

“Xenophobia, racism, and fear are standard tools for many political opportunists,” Embrey added. “What is particularly shameful is how many are willing to turn their backs on those in need, those fleeing the horrors of war, and the brutality of ISIS. Turning our backs on the refugees is contrary to our nation’s values.”

Embrey stressed that our nation cannot succumb to the same kind of racism and xenophobia that resulted in the unjust incarceration of Americans of Japanese ancestry during World War II.

“This is precisely the time when, we, as a democratic nation, must reaffirm our commitment to the fundamental tenants of our Constitution,” he said. “We must reaffirm our commitment to human rights and oppose the persecution of anyone on the basis of race, religion, and national origin. We must do our part to assist those fleeing tyranny and persecution. This is our moral responsibility and will be a important step in combating the fear and hysteria being whipped up by political opportunists like Mayor Bowers.”

“As a people, we must stand united with all who oppose terrorism,” he added. “But perhaps most important, we must lead by example and show the world how strong and resilient our democratic traditions are. To bow down to fear and hatred will only fuel the terrorist narrative that our democracy, our progressive traditions, are nothing more than a facade.”

“The description of Muslims and refugees as potential terrorists, fifth columnists, or a threat to our way of life, is reminiscent of what our families faced behind the barbed wire during World War II. To fall prey to that same kind of hysteria, which now targets the Muslim community, would be a disservice to the sacrifices of our families, our community, and it is a slap in the face to all freedom loving people around the world.”


The Manzanar Committee is dedicated to educating and raising public awareness about the incarceration and violation of civil rights of persons of Japanese ancestry during World War II and to the continuing struggle of all peoples when Constitutional rights are in danger. A non-profit organization that has sponsored the annual Manzanar Pilgrimage since 1969, along with other educational programs, the Manzanar Committee has also played a key role in the establishment and continued development of the Manzanar National Historic Site. For more information, check out our blog at, call us at (323) 662-5102, and e-mail us at You can also follow the Manzanar Commitee on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and YouTube.

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13 thoughts on “Manzanar Committee Condemns Statement By Roanoke, Virginia Mayor David Bowers Regarding Syrian Refugees

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  1. Thanx for speaking out, Bruce! It’s unimaginable that in this time and age, we still have assholes like Bowers creeping out from under the rocks. – Niseiihiker

  2. While his choice of including the WW II internment was ill-advised, his basic premise that we need to step back, then proceed with caution, is accurate. Only a fool would say “full speed ahead” with getting refugees from ISIS areas to th US. Why would able-bodied men run instead of fighting the invaders of heir country? Also, many people from those countries have a complimentary view of Sharia law and see no problem with it being implemented in the US. Remember, the “fans” at the Turkey soccer match with Greece booed and shouted Allah Akbar during the moment of silence for the Paris victims. We can’t be too careful.

    1. Just “ill-advised?” And no, his premise was not caution. It was xenophobic and racist. Sure, we must be cautious, but what the mayor said was nothing more than fear-mongering and political opportunism.

    2. BTW: That basic premise you mentioned was the same one used during World War II. “You can’t be too careful,” so they incarcerated, not just immigrant Japanese (who were prevented from naturalizing by racist laws), but also American-born Japanese-citizens.

      You can’t be too careful, after all.

  3. Bruce and Gann,

    I may be wrong, but your statement is the first substantive response by any organization identified with educating the public about the wartime Nikkei gulag and diaspora. Kimura at JANM was quoted in a LA Times article today, but unless it was edited out, he said nothing of substance.



  4. You people need to talk with people like myself who were around at the time of the Manzanar inturnment. I born in Lone Pine and remember it well.

  5. First, what happened at Manzanar is nowhere near what happened in nazi Germany, to compare is ridiculous. And again I want to say that I in no way condone the Manzanar internment. With that said people who were not on the west coast of the US at that time have no idea how scared we where. We had complete blackouts, for those that don’t know this all windows covered at night so that no light got out, even in Lone Pine, my parents were preparing to head for the hills if the “invasion” came. Doe’s this condone what our government did to the Japanese Americans, no. But as a 7 to 8 year old boy it was great because our church boys club went up there a lot and played with children in the camp, and watch the Yogi’s and the Knights play baseball. I hope I don’t hurt anyone’s feelings it is certainly unintentional.

    1. No one compared the American concentration camps with the death camps the Nazis had. What you are apparently unaware of is the fact that the US Government knew long before World War II that fears you spoke of were entirely unwarranted. They had already done an exhaustive study that determined that Japanese Americans were “highly loyal,” yet they continued to fan the flames of hysteria that you fell victim to.

      So yes, you were scared. However, because those fears were based on entirely fabricated information, it’s not a valid excuse for what transpired as a result.

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