President Barack Obama on Monday forcefully rejected a suggestion, put forward by multiple Republican presidential candidates, that only Christians fleeing the civil war in Syria should be admitted to the US as refugees.
In a press conference at the G-20 summit in Turkey, Obama called such proposals “shameful.”
“When I hear folks say that, ‘Well, maybe we should just admit the Christians, but not the Muslims,'” Obama said. “When I hear political leaders suggesting that there would be a religious test for which a person who is fleeing a war torn country is admitted, when some of those folks themselves come from families who benefited from protection when they were fleeing from political persecution, that’s shameful. That’s not American.”
Obama’s comments were perceived as a veiled reference to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who has said his father fled Cuba in the 1950s after being beaten as a young Cuban revolutionary.
On Saturday, Cruz slammed Obama’s strategy against the Islamic State, the terrorist group that has claimed responsibility for attacks in Paris last Friday that have left at least 129 people dead. Those attacks have provided fuel for those arguing for tighter border controls and against accepting larger numbers of Syrian refugees.
Cruz, who last year seemed to embrace the idea of accepting such refugees, told Fox News on Saturday that the US should only accept Christian refugees fleeing violence.
“It makes no sense whatsoever to for us to be bringing in refugees who our intelligence cannot determine if they are terrorists here to kill us or not. Those who are fleeing persecution should be resettled in the Middle East and majority Muslim countries,” Cruz said. “Now, on the other hand, Christians who are being targeted for genocide or persecution, Christians who are being beheaded or crucified, we should be providing safe haven to them.”
Many Republican presidential candidates have called for restrictions on accepting Syrian refugees into the US following revelations that one of the suspects in the attacks had a Syrian passport, the authenticity of which has yet to be verified.
And Cruz isn’t the only candidate calling for a Christian-focused refugee screening. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) also said on Sunday that he would pursue a refugee plan that would prioritise Christian refugees.
“We should focus our efforts as it relates to refugees on the Christians that are being slaughtered,” Bush told CNN on Sunday.
In his press conference on Monday, Obama praised his predecessor, President George W. Bush, for his response to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
“I was very proud after 9/11 when he was adamant and clear that this was not a war against Islam,” Obama said. “And the notion that some of the those who have taken leadership in his party would ignore all that — that’s not who we are. On this, they should follow his example. It was the right one.”
During his speech on Monday, Obama also pushed back on the notion that the refugee crisis should be defined by the attacks.
“The people who are fleeing Syria are the most harmed by terrorism, they are the most vulnerable as a consequence of civil war and strife,” Obama said. “It is very important…that we do not close our hearts to the victims of such violence and somehow start equating the issue of refugees with the issue of terrorism.”