A Muslim civil rights group demanded an apology Wednesday from U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) for remarks he made condoning discrimination against some Arabs.
"Our Constitution guarantees that discrimination not be part of the American tradition," said Ahmed Rehab, director of communications for the Chicago Council on American-Islamic Relations.
The congressman defended his remarks Wednesday, saying it is crucial for the United States to protect its borders from foreign terrorists.
Kirk, a Navy Reserve intelligence officer from the North Shore's 10th Congressional District, made his comments at a technology conference last weekend at Northwestern University.
According to a published report, Kirk said: "I'm OK with discrimination against young Arab males from terrorist-producing states. I think that when we look at the threat that's out there, young men between, say, the ages of 18 and 25 from a couple of countries, I believe a certain amount of intense security should be placed on them.
"I'm not threatened by people from China. I'm not even threatened by people from Mexico. I just know where the threat is from. It's from a unique place, and I think it's OK to recognize that."
The comments came after Kirk remarked that China produces 10 times more engineers than the United States, giving it an economic advantage.
In a letter faxed Wednesday to Kirk's office, Yaser Tabbara, director of the Muslim civil rights group, wrote that he was shocked by the comments.
"It's one thing for me to hear it from Joe Schmoe on the street and deal with it as an ignorant attitude and give that person the benefit of the doubt," Tabbara said. "It's another, and 100 times more disturbing and dangerous, to hear something like that spewed out of the mouth of a public figure, a political representative who represents a constituency of Americans. This, to me, is a manifestation of ... a classic, malicious, bigoted attitude."
The Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights also has called for an apology and retraction from Kirk.
Kirk said Wednesday that his remarks reflect his belief that America's borders need to be secure from outside threats.
"We need to strengthen our visa entry process to guard against the threat, and we need intense security on applicants from terrorist-producing countries," he said. "Ignoring that reality would only do a disservice to our country's security."
He also said he would be willing to discuss his remarks with any constituent of the 10th District.