WASHINGTON (AP) — The bloody attacks in Paris are putting the Syrian refugee crisis at the center of U.S. politics as migrants from that war-torn country surge toward the West and security concerns rise.
The debate, which cuts straight to the American identity as a refuge, on Monday, November 16, ranged from whether to only admit Syrians who are Christian to whether to close some mosques. But across the political landscape, caution intensified about vetting Syrian refugees and whether to allow them into the country at all.
GOP presidential frontrunner Donald Trump suggested in a MSNBC interview that he would “strongly consider” closing some mosques if elected. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said the U.S. should focus on admitting Christians. And GOP presidential contender Marco Rubio for the first time said the United States should no longer accept Syrian refugees because it’s impossible to know whether they have links to Islamic militants — an apparent shift from earlier statements in which he left open the prospects of migrants being admitted with proper vetting.
“It’s not that we don’t want to, it’s that we can’t,” Rubio said Sunday, November 15, on ABC’s “This Week.” ”Because there’s no way to background check someone that’s coming from Syria. Who do you call and do a background check on them?”
Bush said Syrian Christians should be admitted to the U.S., but only after proper vetting.
“I think our focus ought to be on the Christians who have no place in Syria anymore,” he added in NBC’s “Meet the Press.” ”They’re being beheaded, they’re being executed by both sides. And I think we have a responsibility to help.”
President Barack Obama condemned that approach as the opposite of American values.
“When I hear folks say that, well, maybe we should just admit the Christians but not the Muslims, when I hear political leaders suggesting that there would be a religious test for which person who’s fleeing from a war-torn country is admitted, when some of those folks themselves come from families who benefited from protection when they were fleeing political persecution, that’s shameful,” Obama said at the G-20 Summit in Antalya, Turkey. “That’s not American, it’s not who we are.”
Obama has said that the administration is moving forward with its plan to thoroughly vet and admit as many as 10,000 Syrian refugees. All three Democratic presidential candidates have said they would admit Syrians but only after thorough background checks.
But Friday, November 13, night’s mass killings in Paris, which left at least 129 people dead, offered evidence that may have backed up what many had been warning: People with secret ties to Islamic militants could flow across borders as part of waves of refugees.
Authorities said a Syrian passport found near one of the Paris attackers that had been registered last month and traveled through three countries along a busy migrant corridor known for lax controls. It was not clear whether the document was real or forged. Officials on Sunday, November 15, were still trying to identify people involved in the conspiracy. They said as many as three of the seven suicide bombers who died in the attacks were French citizens.
“What we need to be able to do frankly is sort out that foreign fighter flow, those who have gone into Syria and come out and want to launch attacks or those people who have connections with ISIL in Syria,” Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes said on Fox News Sunday, November 15. “At the same time, we have to recognize there’s tragic victims of this conflict, there are women, and children, orphans of this war and I think we need to do our part, along with our allies, to provide them a safe haven.”
GOP presidential hopeful Ben Carson said Syrian refugees should not be brought to the U.S. because it is too easy for jihadis, intent on “wreaking havoc in this country,” to embed with them. “There’s no reason we should be facilitating such a thing,” he said after a southern Nevada rally Sunday, November 15. Instead, he spoke of giving Syrians unspecified help to stay in their country.
The Paris attacks have elevated national security in the presidential contest. In Saturday, November 14, night’s Democratic presidential debate, which began with a moment of silence for the Paris victims, all three candidates — former secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton, Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley — said the U.S. should admit far more than the 10,000 Syrians to which Obama has committed, but only with proper screening.
Rubio on Sunday, November 15, said that was impossible.
“You can’t pick up the phone and call Syria, and that’s one of the reasons why I said we won’t be able to take more refugees,” Rubio said on ABC.
That is a switch from Rubio’s other statements this fall, in which he voiced skepticism about proper vetting but still left the door open to admitting refugees. In September, he told Boston Herald radio: “We’ve always been a country that’s been willing to accept people who have been displaced. And I would be open to that if it can do it in a way that allows us to ensure that among them are not infiltrated, people who are part of a terrorist organization.”
Associated Press writer Sally Ho contributed to this report from Henderson, Nevada.
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