Watch CBS News

Fact checking 2016 candidates on Syrian refugees

The U.S. is expected to take in up to 10,000 Syrian refugees over the next year. But after the Paris terror attacks, some Republican candidates are proposing the U.S. close its doors to migrants fleeing their war-torn country. 01:37

Debate surrounding Syrian refugees coming to the United States has ramped up dramatically since the ISIS attacks in Paris on Friday, and not every assertion from the 2016 contenders has been accurate. Below are a few statements that deserve a closer look:

Donald Trump: Obama will let in "hundreds of thousands of refugees from Syria"

U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump takes a question during a news conference before a campaign rally in Worcester, Massachusetts November 18, 2015. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

In a new radio ad launched this week, Trump says, "It's amazing that the United States can have a president who is so out of touch, but it's also dangerous. Obama has no strategy to defeat ISIS, and now he's preparing to hundreds of thousands of refugees from Syria into the United States."

In fact, President Obama has called for the U.S. to take in 10,000 refugees from Syria over the course of a year. So far in 2015, the U.S. has accepted just over 1,800 Syrian refugees.

Martin O'Malley: "A whole bunch" of refugees won't be in the U.S. "any time soon"

Democratic U.S. presidential candidate Governor Martin O'Malley speaks at the Central Iowa Democrats Fall Barbecue in Ames, Iowa November 15, 2015. REUTERS

"I would talk through the fact that there's a 13-step process that goes through this vetting process for Syrian refugees," O'Malley said on MSNBC on Friday. "We're in no danger of having a whole bunch of Syrian refugees come to our country any time soon. It is a one year, some people say two year, process before they actually go through the vetting process. I also would have called on Congress to do more to improve the conditions in these refugee camps there in - in the Middle East, in Jordan, and also in Turkey. Let's alleviate the human suffering here."

As mentioned above, the U.S. has in 2015 already accepted just over 1,800 Syrian refugees. Yet O'Malley is correct that the vetting process -- which is done abroad -- takes one to two years.

Donald Trump: Syrians "pouring in" at the Southern border

We need new leadership- fast!

A video posted by Donald J. Trump (@realdonaldtrump) on

In an Instagram video Thursday, Trump says, "Syrians are now being caught at the southern border, just like I said. They're going to be pouring in. We don't know who they are, could be ISIS -- we need a new president fast."

Trump was referring to an article on the right-wing site Breitbart News, which reported that eight Syrians were taken into custody at the Laredo, Texas port of entry.

A Department of Homeland Security spokesperson confirmed to CBS News that eight Syrians were, in fact, taken into custody on Tuesday at a port of entry in Laredo -- but they were not trying to sneak in, as Trump seemed to suggest.

In fact, the eight Syrians -- two families consisting of two men, two women and four children -- presented themselves to government officials.

"They were taken into custody by CPB and turned over to ICE for further processing," a DHS spokesperson said. "The two adult women and four children were transferred to the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, Texas. The two men from these families are being held at the South Texas Detention Center in Pearsall Texas. Due to privacy issues, no additional information will be provided at this time."

Ted Cruz: "The Obama administration is not letting in the Syrian Christians"

U.S. Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz speaks at the Growth and Opportunity Party at the Iowa State Fairgrounds in Des Moines, Iowa, October 31, 2015. REUTERS/Brian C. Frank

"Now, you asked about Christians, I think Christians in the Middle East are in a qualitatively different situation," Cruz said to reporters outside of the Capitol Hill Club in Washington on Wednesday. "Number one, they are facing religious persecution and a genocide that is directed at them in particular -- ISIS is crucifying Christians, is beheading Christians, and our immigration law has always recognized a different circumstance for genocide, for the systematic persecution and genocide of a small minority in a population. Right now the Obama administration is not letting in the Syrian Christians, which makes no sense we should be working to provide a safe haven."

Other candidates have suggested the U.S. should prioritize Christian Syrians over Muslim Syrians, and Trump has suggested it's easier for Muslim refugees to gain admittance into the United States than it is for Christians.

Leon Rodriguez, director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, told the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday that when reviewing refugee applicants, "We do not disqualify anybody because of their faith."

Asked whether the U.S. interviewers inquire about an applicant's religion, Rodriguez said, "In many cases, [religion] is a basis of persecution... If that is part of the basis for their persecution, we do inquire into that."

It is true that ISIS has targeted religious minorities like Christians and Yazidis.

Of the 1,869 Syrian refugees admitted to the U.S. so far this year, 25 are Christian, according to the Worldwide Refugee Admissions Processing System website. About 10 percent of Syrians are Christian, according to the CIA.

Jeb Bush: "Unlike other refugees... you have the possibility at least of terrorists"

Republican presidential candidate, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, speaks during a campaign event at the Coca Cola bottling plant in Atlantic, Iowa, Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2015. AP

"I agree that Governor Scott has legitimate concerns, and all the other governors do that brought it up," Bush said Thursday in New Hampshire. "By the way, this isn't only Republicans -- Democrats are concerned about this as well. They should be. Unlike other refugees that have come, you have the possibility at least of terrorists [who want] to disrupt our way of life and attack us and to kill people that could be embedded in refugees."

The United States has for years vetted refugees for terrorist threats, and it hasn't always been successful. Federal officials insist the process is continuously improving, and that the threat of terrorism from vetted refugees is very low. Still, this isn't really a new problem.

In 2011, two Iraqi refugees were arrested after they started working with an FBI informant. Additionally, in 2013, an Uzbek refugee was arrested for alleged terrorist activities. According to the Migration Policy Institute, none of the 2,200 Syrians that have come to the United States as refugees since Syria's civil war started in 2011 have been arrested on such charges.

Asked about these shortcomings, Assistant Secretary of State Anne Richard told Republicans in the House on Thursday, "I agree with you in the history of the 3 million refugees who have come here, there have been a handful that have been a threat to the United States, and fortunately they have been stopped."

She called the two Iraqis who were arrested a dramatic example and added, "Had our current system been in place, they would've been caught before they got here."

A senior administration official told reporters earlier this week that the U.S. has benefitted from its "years of experience" vetting Iraqi refugees. Since that large-scale program started in 2007, the vetting process has become more robust.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.