During a discussion about two weeks ago, the Republican congressman from Santa Clarita made a comment saying Hispanics and Arabs are hard to tell apart. Part of the speech has been posted on the Internet.
It was a low-key public appearance in Simi Valley on Aug. 7 and McKeon was speaking to a VFW post when he was asked about immigration.
"There are people that think that they can't tell the difference between a Hispanic person and an Arab person," McKeon said in a video posted on YouTube. "And if you get an Arab that's trained that's coming into this country to be...a terrorist, they can mingle in and they can get in here."
Ximara Corteno, an organizer with the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA), says that McKeon's remarks are offensive and demeaning.
"It is disgusting and really disrespectful towards Middle Eastern and Latino communities," said Corteno. "Just saying people don't know the difference between these two, I think it shows a lot of ignorance."
McKeon's comments also drew criticism from the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
"This is not just insensitive, but this is a fear tactic that is used to, whether it's to further his own agenda, but in general, it's a fear tactic and is not conducive or constructive to holding a civil discourse about a topic as serious as immigration reform," said Yasmin Nouh with the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
McKeon is on an out of town trip with his family, but a spokeswoman with his office released a statement that read in part, "The last thing Congressman McKeon meant to do was cause any offense, but was rather having a larger conversation on the importance of achieving real immigration reform legislation that actually addresses the critical problems with our current system, and about how having porous borders is more than just an immigration issue, it is a national security issue."
During that same speech, the congressman said he does have very specific ideas when it comes to immigration reform, specifically how to deal with the millions who overstayed their visas and are in the U.S. illegally.