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Virginia Mayor Apologizes for Japanese-American Internment Remarks

At a special Roanoke City Council meeting on Friday, the mayor of Roanoke, Virginia, David Bowers, apologized for a statement made earlier in the week about suspending assistance to Syrian refugees based upon the historical precedence of the incarceration of Japanese and Japanese Americans during World War II.

"I anticipated that the statement might get some coverage in Roanoke Valley, but I did not in any way imagine that it would trend internationally through the Internet," Bowers said at Friday's meeting. "I apologize to all those offended by those remarks. No one else is to be blamed but me."

While Bowers confirmed that his position remained the same on halting the Syrian refugee resettlement program, he made a point to address the Japanese American community at the meeting: "In particular, I apologize to Americans of Japanese descent for the unwise and inappropriate comparison between the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II and the current refugee crisis. Any such comparison was a mistake and I apologize. It's not in my heart to be racist or bigoted."

After comments from city council members, members of the community spoke, including some who called for his resignation and others who said that he was right.

Virginia Delegate Mark Keam, who authored legislation for "Fred Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution," tweeted on Friday afternoon that he accepted the mayor's apology.

"We appreciate Mayor Bowers' apology," said Mee Moua, president and executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC, in a statement, but added, "The imprisonment of 100,000 innocent Japanese Americans without due process has long been denounced as unconstitutional. Still, in maintaining his position opposing the resettlement of Syrian refugees in America, Mayor Bowers repeats the offense of vilifying an entire community based on unfounded and irrational fears. We cannot let fear and prejudice blind us and dismantle the founding values of this nation of immigrants."

In a statement Thursday ahead of Bowers' apology, the Minoru Yasui Tribute Project, a group that seeks to honor and reflect upon the contributions of Minoru Yasui, condemned the "shameful policy of excluding Syrian refugees."

"The xenophobic thinking advanced by Mayor Bowers, which fires the flames of war hysteria, does not make us more secure, but on the contrary undermines the very foundations of our country that make us strong," the statement read.

Yasui, who will be honored posthumously with the Presidential Medal of Freedom on Tuesday, fought for the rights of incarcerated Japanese Americans during World War II.

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'We thought we were Americans.' A look back on Asian-American Internment Camps 5:59

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