HENDERSON, Nev. (AP) — Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson is calling on Congress to withdraw funding to resettle Syrian refugees in the United States, arguing in the wake of the Paris attacks that there is no credible way to tell the difference between an Islamic State militant and an innocent citizen fleeing war.
In a letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan, Carson urged congressional Republicans to "extinguish" Syrian resettlement programs, saying the United States "cannot, should not and must not accept any Syrian refugees."
Carson joins other GOP presidential candidates expressing caution or outright opposition to resettling Syrian refugees in the U.S.
Elsewhere across the political landscape, at least 10 governors, including Michigan and Alabama, have taken action to block resettlements or said they are exploring their legal options. Members of the Republican-controlled Congress said Monday they will try to use must-pass government spending legislation to block President Barack Obama's plans to increase the flow of Syrian refugees into the U.S.
Obama earlier this year announced plans to accept as many as 10,000 Syrian refugees this fiscal year, up from 2,000 in fiscal 2015. The State Department manages refugee resettlement with the aid of private organizations like Catholic Charities. Democratic presidential candidates have called for the U.S. to continue to let in Syrian refugees, but only after proper background checks.
Carson suggested no such practical solution exists where Syrian migrants are concerned. "This is a relatively unique situation for our country," he said.
The nations of Europe, meanwhile, are dealing with hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees, dwarfing the number being debated by American politicians.
Carson, who is near the top of many GOP presidential preference polls, joins Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio as candidates who have called for closing American borders to Syrians. South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham said Monday on Fox News Radio that he wants a "timeout" in the Syrian refugee program until a vetting system is in place "that we think will work."
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush suggested over the weekend that the United States restrict admission only to Syrian Christians. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal on Monday issued an executive order intended to block Syrian refugees from being resettled in his state.
Obama on Monday chided Republicans he says are effectively imposing a "religious test" on people fleeing war. "That's not American. That's not who we are," the president said.
Carson retorted that he advocates "an ideological test," though he did not explain how that is different from testing religious beliefs.
Carson's idea of cutting off funding would face roadblocks on Capitol Hill, particularly in the Senate, where Republicans do not have the votes to stave off a Democratic filibuster.
But House Budget Chairman Tom Price issued a statement Monday saying the United States "must suspend our refugee program until certainty is brought to the vetting process."
A September Pew Research Center poll found 51 percent of Americans approved and 45 percent disapproved of the Obama administration's decision to increase the number of refugees it accepts. Forty-four percent said the U.S. should be doing more to address the situation, 19 percent said it should be doing less, and 31 percent said it was doing about what it should.
Nearly 7 in 10 Democrats but just a third of Republicans said they approved of the decision to accept more refugees at that time. Fifty percent of Democrats, but just 35 percent of Republicans, said the U.S. should be doing more.
Barrow reported from Atlanta. AP News Survey Specialist Emily Swanson contributed to this report from Washington.
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