By Susan Heavey and Emily Stephenson
Republican Donald Trump on Tuesday dismissed growing and heated criticism of his proposal to ban Muslims from entering the United States, comparing his plan to the detainment of people of Japanese, German and Italian descent during World War Two.
“What I’m doing is no different than FDR,” Trump said on ABC’s “Good Morning America” program, referring to then-President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who oversaw the detentions.
“We have no choice but to do this,” Trump told ABC in one of a series of television interviews one day after he released his proposal. “We have people that want to blow up our buildings, our cities. We have figure out what’s going on.”
Trump defended his plan to prevent Muslims, including would-be immigrants, students, tourists and other visitors, from entering the country following last week’s California shooting spree by two Muslims who authorities said were radicalized.
The real estate mogul and former reality TV star, who leads the pack seeking the Republican nomination to run for president next November, said Roosevelt’s policies were worse.
During World War Two, more than 110,000 people were forcibly detained in US government detention camps. Roosevelt issued the policies immediately after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, authorizing law enforcement to target “alien enemies.”
Trump’s was the most dramatic response by a presidential candidate following the San Bernardino, California, rampage, even as other Republicans have called for a suspension of US President Barack Obama’s plan to allow some refugees from Syria.
Critics said Trump’s plan would likely be unconstitutional for singling out people based on their religion. The First Amendment of the US Constitution guarantees freedom of religion.
Trump spokeswoman Katrina Pierson dismissed those concerns, telling MSNBC the Constitution does not apply to non-US citizens. “In this country you have the freedom of religion until your religion persecutes other religions,” she said.
Republicans warned that if Trump is the party’s nominee, his stance could hurt in a general election against Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton.
“Donald Trump is Hillary Clinton’s Christmas gift wrapped up under a tree,” Republican candidate Carly Fiorina said on Twitter.
US House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan, a Republican, told reporters the plan was “not conservatism.” But he said he would support the party’s presidential nominee.
Democrats, meanwhile, blamed Republicans for Trump’s extreme language and warned it could help him with primary voters.
“Donald Trump is standing on the platform of hate, and, I’m sorry to say, hate that the Republican Party has built for him,” said Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat.
Clinton tweeted, “Tell Donald Trump: Hate is not an American value.”
Huma Abedin, a top aide to Clinton, sent a fundraising email Monday night declaring her own Muslim faith. “Unfortunately, Trump is leaning into the kind of fear of progress that very well could help him win the nomination,” Abedin wrote.
Polls have shown a stark divide between Republicans and Democrats in how they view Muslims.
Trump’s proposal also drew criticism in France, which had its worst attacks since World War Two on Nov 13 when shootings and suicide bombings in Paris killed 130 people.
French Prime Minister Manuel Valls, in a post on Twitter, said “Mr Trump, like others, is feeding hatred and misinformation. Our only enemy is radical Islam.”
A spokeswoman for British Prime Minister David Cameron called Trump’s comments “divisive, unhelpful and quite simply wrong.”
Two international refugee organizations rejected Trump’s comments, saying US presidential campaign rhetoric threatens resettlement efforts. Muslims in Pakistan and Indonesia also denounced it.
Trump pointed to the events in Paris as well as San Bernardino and warned repeatedly that an attack on the scale of Sep 11, 2001, could happen again if officials don’t act first.
He said he did not know how long a ban would remain in place but said it would not be lifted until Congress acted. He also said Muslim Americans would be allowed back into the country after overseas trips.
Trump told MSNBC that people would be asked about their religion at US borders and that the ban would extend to Muslim leaders of other nations. He said he would not support internment camps, as was done in World War Two.
Some observers poked fun at Trump. British author J.K. Rowling wrote on Twitter that Voldemort, the archvillain of her popular Harry Potter series, “was nowhere near as bad” as Trump.
The Democratic mayor of St. Petersburg, Florida, Rick Kriseman, said in a tongue-in-cheek tweet that he was barring Trump from visiting the city.
“I am hereby barring Donald Trump from entering St. Petersburg until we fully understand the dangerous threat posed by all Trumps,” Kriseman wrote.