Arab-American and immigrant rights groups riled by U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk's
recent comments sanctioning discrimination against Arabs are asking for a
retraction and an apology.
The Highland Park Republican made the controversial statements at a
Saturday symposium on nanotechnology at Northwestern University in Evanston.
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 scrutiny should be placed on them."
Kirk confirmed Monday the quotes were accurate and his office has already
fielded some calls on the issue. He would not elaborate on his position on
scrutinizing the visa process for Arabs. "I have no further comment on
that," he said.
In his remarks Saturday, Kirk went on to say, "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
His remarks have infuriated some immigrant rights groups.
"We ask for a retraction and an apology and think it is incredibly
counterproductive to make the type of blanket statements that he has," said
Mehrdad Azemun, senior organizer for the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant
and Refugee Rights.
"It would behoove the congressman to actually meet with immigrants,
including Muslims, Arabs and South Asians from his own district to actually
have a dialogue about these issues."
Ahmed Rehab, a spokesman for the Chicago Council on American- Islamic
Relations, a national Muslim civil rights advocacy group, said Kirk's
comments are irresponsible because his suggestion has not been proven as an
effective way to deal with terrorism.
A similar effort was launched by the federal government after Sept. 11,
2001, requiring special registration of men of a certain age from 25 mostly
Arab or Islamic countries. Thousands of men were deported for immigration
violations unrelated to terrorism. The program was suspended in 2003.
"What he is calling for is institutionalizing discrimination and, to me,
that is a stab at the American ideals and principles of freedom, equality
and democracy and less so a stab against terrorism," Rehab said. "If
terrorists were smart, and history has proven them to be, they then would
probably recruit a 60-year-old white man to infiltrate our country or
borders. And our system, per the suggestion of Congressman Kirk, would be
much too busy looking elsewhere."