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State representative apologizes; comments about Japanese internment camps were ‘misconstrued’

DENVER -- A state representative who has been in hot water over his comments about Japanese internment camps apologized Friday night and said his words "were taken out of context" and "misconstrued."

Rep. Phil Covarrubias, R-Adams/Arapahoe, was testifying against House Bill 1230, which would protect Coloradans from federal government overreach. It was proposed as a direct response to President Donald Trump's travel ban.

The Ralph Carr Freedom Defense Act pays homage to former Colorado Gov. Ralph Carr, who spoke out against President Franklin D. Roosevelt's decision to put Japanese in internment camps. One of those internment camps was in Granada, in southeastern Colorado.

Covarrubias testified against the bill on Wednesday at the State Capitol.

"We keep hearing about how things went down with the Japanese people. For anybody that has never been in the heat of combat, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and all of that was going on, there’s no time to ask questions and find out who's a citizen and who’s not. You don't have that moment in time. You need to regroup," Covarrubias said.

"It's easy to sit up here and say this stuff now. But if you're in that moment, it looks a lot different than being able to be in a nice suit and tie.

"I hear people saying that we need to respect other people’s rights, and I agree with that, but what about them respecting our rights and our country and our laws? Because I'm not hearing that up here. We're talking about injustice. What about injustice to the American people?"

Dominic Alvarado was watching the video and said he was "in utter disbelief" when he heard Covarrubias' comments.

"Having someone come out here and make these statements that seem to be trying to justify that happened to Japanese-American citizens during World War II was just appalling to me because it was a suspension of their constitutional rights," Alvarardo said.

"I think that no politician who has those views should have any place in our government."

Alvarado contacted Covarrubias on Facebook to voice his concerns.

"Given our current political climate, and what I feel is pretty rampant Islamophobia going on in our nation and other Western cultures around the world, it really makes me feel for that population that something similar could happen to them," Alvarado said.

When asked about his comments on Friday night, Covarrubias said he was in no way condoning Japanese internment camps.

"Oh, God no. Absolutely not. To be honest, I don't even know how it got to that point," Covarrubias said.

Covarrubias called internment camps a "sad situation for all Americans" and "a stain on our history."

"In that time when all that stuff is going on, it's very chaotic and people don't ... I don't know ... in the middle of combat, in that moment, it's a tough time to make quick decisions or whatever," Covarrubias said.

"I didn't mean that any time after that, was that a good idea to have those internment camps, not at all.

"It happened. It was sad. All I was merely doing was repeating what happened in history. I wasn't trying to advocate one way or another."

The Mile High Japanese American Citizens League issued a statement about Covarrubias' comments and asked for a public apology.

"We condemn the racial prejudice, failure of leadership, and ignorance of history's lessons, evident in Rep. Covarrubias' statements," the league said.

Covarrubias offered an apology to anyone who misconstrued what he was trying to say.

"I am sorry if it got taken out, was misconstrued or taken out of context in any way," he said. "I didn't mean anything to say that was a good idea for the internment camps. That was never, ever the thought process."