Calif. congressman condemns RI senator’s remarks on refugees

Controversial email sent by Elaine Morgan criticized Muslims, suggested camps

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – A California congressman who was raised in a World War II Japanese internment camp has condemned the remarks of a Rhode Island state lawmaker and other elected officials who have suggested placing Syrian refugees in camps.

Congressman Mike Honda, who represents the Silicon Valley region, lumped state Sen. Elaine Morgan in with Democratic Mayor David Bowers of Roanoke, Virginia, who suggested the Japanese internment camps as a model for handling the Syrian refugees, and Republican state Rep. Glen Casada of Tennessee, who said his state’s national guard should round up such individuals.

Congressman Mike Honda
Congressman Mike Honda

“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,” Honda said in a statement. “They are perpetuating the messages of hate and fear that fly in the fact [sic] of what America stands for in the world.”

Morgan, R-Hopkinton, made national headlines on Wednesday after WPRI.com reported she sent an email Tuesday evening that said: “The Muslim religion and philosophy is to murder, rape, and decapitate anyone who is a non Muslim.”

In an interview on Wednesday morning, Morgan told WPRI.com she had inadvertently sent the email before editing it and had meant to reference “fanatical Muslim religion and philosophy,” attributing the error to being unfamiliar with her new smartphone’s voice-transcription software. She also said she had not intended to carbon-copy the rest of Rhode Island’s state senators on the message.

In the email, Morgan suggested creating a camp for Syrian refugees in Rhode Island if any are to be taken in, adding on Wednesday: “I can see taking them in, but keeping them all centralized – it sounds a little barbaric, but we need to centralize them and keep them in one central area.”

Unlike Bowers, Morgan made no mention of the Japanese interment camps after World War II and has given no indication that she sees the Roosevelt administration’s policy during the early 1940s as a model for today. But Honda emphasized in his statement his strong opposition to any such talk.

“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,” he said. “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.”

Local Republicans have been quick to distance themselves from Morgan’s comments in her Tuesday email, though a number of them have also called for Gov. Gina Raimondo to rescind her offer to host Syrian refugees in Rhode Island.

The controversy over Morgan also comes on the eve of dueling State House events related to the Syrian refugee issue planned for Thursday.

Rep. Bobby Nardolillo, R-Coventry, has called a press conference for 3 p.m. where he plans to detail his security concerns about bringing in refugees. After his event was announced, two Democratic state senators – Cranston’s Joshua Miller and Providence’s Gayle Goldin – said they would hold a rally at 1:30 p.m. to show support for the refugees.

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com. He hosts Executive Suite and writes The Saturday Morning Post. Follow him on Twitter: @tednesi

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