Va.'s Goode reiterates need for immigration controls

Congressman says stricter laws would block Muslims from being elected to Congress

December 22, 2006|By Joel Havemann | Joel Havemann,LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON -- Rep. Virgil H. Goode Jr., a Virginia Republican, yesterday stood by his demand for strict immigration controls that he said would prevent Muslims from being elected to Congress and using the Quran during swearing-in ceremonies.

Islamic groups in the United States called on Republicans to repudiate Goode's remarks, which he first made in a letter attacking the use of the holy book in an unofficial ceremonial oath-taking next month by the first Muslim elected to the House.

"I do not apologize and I do not retract my letter," Goode said emphatically during a session yesterday with reporters in the southern Virginia town of Rocky Mount. Questioned later on Fox News Channel's Your World, he said, "I am for restricting immigration so that we don't have a majority of Muslims elected to the House of Representatives."

The incoming House member at the center of the controversy, Keith Ellison, told CNN's The Situation Room yesterday that he could trace his ancestors to Louisiana as far back as 1742. "I'm about as American as they come," said Ellison, who converted to Islam in college.

The Minnesota Democrat said he planned to use the Quran only as part of an unofficial individual swearing-in before friends and supporters. That event will follow the official ceremony in which all House members raise their right hand and pledge their allegiance to the Constitution and the laws of the United States, without resting their left hand on anything.

Goode said yesterday that he wrote the letter in response to constituents who e-mailed him about Ellison's decision to use the Quran. In the letter, he said his own individual ceremony would be different.

"When I raise my hand to take the oath on swearing-in day, I will have the Bible in my other hand," Goode wrote. "I do not subscribe to using the Koran in any way

"If American citizens don't take up and adopt the Virgil Goode position on immigration, there will likely be many more Muslims elected to office and demanding the use of the Koran."

In the letter, Goode said he favored halting illegal immigration and strictly curtailing legal immigration. In particular, he noted, he would halt the 50,000 "diversity visas" set aside each year for people from countries with few immigrants to the United States, saying they allow "many persons from the Middle East to come to this country."

"I fear," he wrote, "that in the next century we will have many more Muslims in the United States if we do not adopt the strict immigration policies that I believe are necessary to preserve the values and beliefs traditional to the United States of America."

Goode's letter was dated Dec. 7, but became public only this week.

Republican office-holders and the Republican National Committee kept silent about Goode's comments, but Muslim organizations castigated him for racial insensitivity - and worse.

"Statements such as Rep. Goode's incite fear and mistrust between communities and misrepresent the contribution of a large segment of the American people," James Zogby, the president of the Arab American Institute, said in a statement.

An RNC spokeswoman said the committee had nothing to say about the issue. Neither outgoing House Speaker Dennis Hastert, an Illinois Republican, nor his staff was available for comment.

Ellison himself had little to say about the current controversy, instead urging all sides to pay attention to the Constitution, the one document to which everyone at the swearing-in of the new Congress subscribes.

Joel Havemann writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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