The mayor of Roanoke, Virginia, apologized Friday afternoon for a statement he made this week, in which he cited the World War II-era Japanese internment camps in the U.S. in his argument against assisting Syrian refugees, the Washington Post reported. Mayor David Bowers, who has held the job for 16 years, issued the apology at a special meeting of Roanoke’s city council and said no one but him should be blamed for the remarks, for which he was widely criticized.

“It’s just not in my heart to be racist or bigoted,” he said. “My statement was intended to be respectful and measured in tone and substance, but it fell short obviously.”

His earlier remarks came in a statement requesting all city organizations suspend all assistance to Syrian refugees in the wake of last Friday’s terror attacks in Paris that killed 130 and have been attributed to the Islamic State group, which is also known as ISIS or ISIL. 

“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’ statement read.

The internment of more than 100,000 Japanese-Americans during World War II is regarded as a blatant examples of a U.S. government encroachment on civil liberties.



Bowers’ statement drew international criticism, including a statement by George Takei, a Japanese-American actor known best for his role as Mr. Sulu on the "Star Trek" TV series. Takei and his family were imprisoned for four years in the camps, and he has long been an outspoken Asian-American advocate.

“There never was any proven incident of espionage or sabotage from the suspected ‘enemies’ then, just as there has been no act of terrorism from any of the 1,854 Syrian refugees the U.S. already has accepted,” his statement read. “We were judged based on who we looked like, and that is about as un-American as it gets.”

Bowers, a Democrat, is among many politicians who have recently spoken out against Syrian refugee resettlement. On Friday morning, 27 Republican governors sent a letter to President Barack Obama, asking him to suspend all plans to bring in additional refugees from Syria.