Rep. Mark Kirk of Highland Park made what he admitted were "politically uncomfortable" remarks Saturday when asked about the difficulties of the visa process for immigrants entering the United States.
"I'm OK with discrimination against young Arab males from terrorist-producing states. I'm OK with that," Kirk said. "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 scrutiny 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."
Kirk (R-Ill.), speaking at a nanotechnology conference at Northwestern University, had talked about China gaining an economic advantage over the United States, producing 10 times the number of engineers as the United States.
Through a spokesman, Kirk, a Naval Reserve intelligence officer, later added that given that 17 of the 19 Sept. 11 hijackers came from Saudi Arabia, it "makes sense to give increased scrutiny to visa applicants coming from terrorist-producing states."
Yaser Tabbara, director of the Chicago Council on American-Islamic Relations, called Kirk's comments "beyond troubling" and demanded an apology.
"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."