Republican Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas demands that a House...

Republican Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas demands that a House Select Committee investigate the September 2012 Benghazi terrorist attack. Gohmert spoke outside the U.S. Capitol building last month at a news conference organized by the Special Operations Speaks Political Action Committee. Credit: Getty Images photo

We can't let some wrongheaded elected officials block immigration reform with offensive statements.

Recently, Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) said that it is difficult to "tell the difference between a Hispanic person and an Arab person," and that as a result, a "trained" Arab may come into the country "to be a terrorist."

Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) made similar comments earlier this year, stating, "We know that people are now being trained to come in and act like Hispanic when they are radical Islamists."

But what does it mean to "look" or "act like" Hispanics? What does it mean to "look" or "act like" Arabs? Plus, the implication that Arabs are "trained" to be terrorists defames more than 300 million people.

These statements by McKeon and Gohmert and others like them are an attempt to pit immigrant communities against each other by implying that Arabs are somehow using the identity of other immigrant communities to further these efforts. By linking terrorism with a particular race, ethnicity or religion, they also take the attention away from the fundamental problem that our country needs to fix: the broken immigration system.

We must shun stereotypes and ditch the xenophobic rhetoric of McKeon and Gohmert. In their place, let's cultivate a more humane discourse, one void of xenophobia, where "different" is not interchangeable with dangerous or suspicious. In addition, members of Congress must be held accountable by their constituents and their peers for such offensive and fear-inducing statements.

Our elected officials are building our new immigration system. They should build one that respects everyone's dignity -- regardless of the race, national origin or religion of any group.

Immigration reform should be about building a stronger nation. It won't be stronger if our elected officials build bias into our tomorrows.

Manar Waheed is policy director of South Asian Americans Leading Together, an advocacy group. She wrote this for Progressive Media Project, a source of liberal commentary on domestic and international issues, affiliated with The Progressive magazine. Her email address is