CAPAC Leaders Condemn Virginia Mayor’s Comments on Japanese American Internment
WASHINGTON, D.C. (Nov. 18, 2015) — In justifying his opposition to allowing Syrian refugees into the United States, Mayor David Bowers of Roanoke, VA, cited the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.
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.”
Congress formally apologized and provided reparations for the policy of Japanese American internment through the passage of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, and to date, not a single case of espionage has ever been proven. Leaders of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC) released the following statements condemning these comments:
Congresswoman Judy Chu (CA-27), CAPAC Chair:
“I absolutely condemn this comparison. Japanese internment was a dark chapter in American history – so un-American Congress later apologized for it. The fact that not one single case of espionage by a Japanese American was proven underscores how wrong Mayor Bowers is to positively cite this policy. Instead of keeping us safe, Japanese internment compromised our principles and demonized an entire population of Americans. It is outrageous to let the same kind of xenophobia influence our policy today. If we do, we will only regret it again.
“Sadly, the false admiration for the failed and embarrassing policy of Japanese internment is just one example of how extreme the rhetoric around Syrian refugees has become. Other responses include limiting resettlement just to Christians or closing our borders altogether. This is not the America I know. We have the strictest refugee policy in the world which prioritizes women, children, and those escaping torture. These are exactly the people who should be helped, not abandoned to be killed by ISIS or left in a refugee camp – none of which serves our security interests. Sadly, as with Japanese internment, we have seen this before when we closed our borders to Jews fleeing Germany. Those were the wrong choices then, and they are the wrong choices now. We must stop the inflammatory and dangerous rhetoric, stick to our values, and not emulate the mistakes of the past.”
Congresswoman Madeleine Bordallo (GU):
“I am appalled that Mayor David Bowers used the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II as his rationale to withhold assistance to Syrian refugees. The internment of Japanese Americans is a lesson to our nation that we must never let fear dictate our actions or cause us to disregard our values. Our nation has a moral obligation to be part of the world solution to care for refugees from Syria, who are fleeing from the violence and pain of war. We have a responsibility to act accordingly, and I am confident that the screening procedures that are currently in place will ensure that our nation remains safe and secure from potential acts of terror.”
Congressman Michael Honda (CA-17), CAPAC Chair Emeritus:
“I was raised in an internment camp and know firsthand how that dark moment in our nation’s history led to repercussions that have resonated over the years. I am outraged by reports of elected officials calling for Syrian Americans to be rounded up and interned. We simply cannot let the extremist perpetrators of these hateful acts of violence drive us into such a misguided action. For it is when we allow these criminals to lead us down a dark path, away from our principles and ideals, that we as a country suffer.
“The Japanese and Japanese Americans interned after the bombing of Pearl Harbor was an outrage, as was turning away Jews at our borders who were fleeing German persecution. We cannot allow this to happen again and reverse the progress we have made in the last several decades.
“We look back, as a nation, and we know this was wrong. We look back and know, as defined by the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, that the internment was a result of ‘race prejudice, war hysteria and a failure of political leadership.’ We look back and know that an entire ethnicity was said to be, and ultimately considered, the enemy. We know that internment happened because few in Washington were brave enough to say ‘no.’
“We must now stand up and say ‘no’ to failed leadership and condemn the statements of Mayor Bowers of Roanoke, Tennessee state House GOP Caucus Chair Casada, and Rhode Island State Senator Morgan who would make such ill-advised and backwards-thinking recommendations. They are perpetuating the messages of hate and fear that fly in the fact of what America stands for in the world.
“As we learn more about the complexity and the extent of the attacks on Paris, this tragedy continues to send shockwaves through the world community. I am hopeful we will not allow our anger and outrage towards these terrorists and their cowardly attacks on civilians to turn us away from compassion and generosity. We need to find ways to help the tens of thousands of Syrian refugees who are entering through our thorough screening and resettlement process now to find safe haven in the United States. As a world leader, we need to help these people escape from the brutal ISIL regime – they are fleeing the very perpetrators of these senseless acts of violence.”
Congressman Mark Takano (CA-41), CAPAC Whip:
“When America was attacked in 1941, fear drove us to momentarily lose sight of our values. And out of that fear came a tragic set of policies that put my grandparents and parents into internment camps where they — and other loyal Japanese-American citizens — were imprisoned for years. It took decades for our nation to come to terms with these terrible actions taken against Japanese-Americans. Today, as we grapple with the consequences of the terrorist attack in France, again we hear voices calling for us to distrust people because of their ethnicity or their religion. A few have even made comments implying that the internment that so scarred my parents’ generation was a reasonable response. It was not. Nor is it reasonable for the United States to re-victimize those who have fled their homes to escape terrorism and war by treating them as though they are our enemy. We have processes in place to protect our communities by vetting those seeking admission as refugees to the United States. We must not again succumb to fear, or ever forget the hard lessons of the Japanese internment. Instead, we must do what our leaders failed to do in the 1940s — stay true to the ideals our nation was founded upon.”
The Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC) is comprised of Members of Congress of Asian and Pacific Islander descent and Members who have a strong dedication to promoting the well-being of the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community. Currently chaired by Congresswoman Judy Chu, CAPAC has been addressing the needs of the AAPI community in all areas of American life since it was founded in 1994.