REUTERS - Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump on Tuesday likened his proposal to ban Muslims from entering the United States to World War II policies implemented by U.S. president Franklin Roosevelt against people of Japanese, German and Italian descent.
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"What I'm doing is no different than FDR," Trump said on ABC's "Good Morning America" program in one of a round of heated television interviews where he defended his plan in the wake of last week's California shooting spree by two Muslims who authorities said were radicalized.
"We have no choice but to do this," the candidate seeking the Republican nomination in the 2016 presidential race told ABC. "We have people that want to blow up our buildings, our cities. We have figure out what's going on."
During World War II, more than 110,000 people were forcibly detained in U.S. government detention camps. Roosevelt issued the policies immediately after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, authorizing law enforcement to target "alien enemies."
In an unusually lengthy interview on MSNBC, Trump said he did not know how long the ban on Muslims would last. "Until we can get our hands around the situation, we have to do something and we have to do it now," he said.
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 to U.S. President Barack Obama's plan to allow 10,000 refugees from Syria.
Critics have said Trump's plan rejects American values by singling out people based on their religion and would also likely be illegal and unconstitutional. The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees freedom of religion. The proposal drew a fresh wave of criticism on Tuesday from fellow Republicans, U.S. lawmakers and others. U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan, a Republican, told reporters the plan is "not conservatism" and was not in the nation's interest.
The proposal was criticized in France, which had its worst attacks since World War II on November 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."
Two international refugee organizations also rejected Trump's comments, saying U.S. presidential campaign rhetoric threatens resettlement efforts. Muslims in Pakistan and Indonesia also denounced the plan.
On Tuesday, Trump reiterated that a ban would last until Congress acts. He also said Muslim Americans would be allowed back into the country after an overseas trip. Asked about its implementation, Trump told MSNBC that people would be asked about their religion at U.S. borders and that the ban would extend to Muslim leaders of other nations.
In a confrontational exchange with CNN anchor Chris Cuomo, Trump, his voice hoarse, defended such measures as necessary: "We're at war. Get it through your head, Chris."
Still, he said he did not support internment camps, which Roosevelt had set up during World War Two. "I don't want to bring to bring them back at all," Trump said on ABC. He added his plan had "tremendous support" from thousands of people who "just want to see something happen."
Polls have shown a stark divide between Republicans and Democrats in how they view Muslims. Trump dismissed the prospect of the party rebuking him for his comments. "There's no problem. I'm just doing the right thing," he told CNN.
One of his rivals, U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, on Tuesday urged fellow Republicans to swiftly reject Trump. "This is not a policy debate," he told MSNBC. "You need to stand up for our party and our country."