A congressman who heads a homeland security subcommittee said on a radio call-in program that he agreed with the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II.
A fellow congressman who was interred as a child criticized Coble for his comment on Wednesday, as did advocacy groups.
Rep. Howard Coble, R-N.C., made the remark Tuesday on WKZL-FM when a caller suggested Arabs in the United States should be confined.
Coble, chairman of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security, said that he didn't agree with the caller but did agree with President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who established the internment camps.
"We were at war. They (Japanese-Americans) were an endangered species," Coble said. "For many of these Japanese-Americans, it wasn't safe for them to be on the street."
Like most Arab-Americans today, Coble said, most Japanese-Americans during World War II were not America's enemies.
Still, Coble said, Roosevelt had to consider the nation's security.
"Some probably were intent on doing harm to us," he said, "just as some of these Arab-Americans are probably intent on doing harm to us."
U.S. Rep. Mike Honda, D-Calif., a Japanese-American who spent his early childhood with his family in an internment camp during World War II, said he spoke with Coble on Wednesday to learn more about his views.
"I'm disappointed that he really doesn't understand the impact of what he said," Honda said. "With his leadership position in Congress, that kind of lack of understanding can lead people down the wrong path."
The Japanese American Citizens League called Coble on Wednesday and asked him to issue an apology, while the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee demanded that Coble explain his remarks.
It is "a sad day in our country's tradition when an elected official ... openly agrees with an unconstitutional and racist policy long believed to be one of the darkest moments of America's history," the group said in a statement.