Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee largely dismissed the idea of accepting Syrian refugees into the United States on Tuesday, saying that America could accidentally accept non-Syrians who just want health care benefits and “a good sandwich.”
The former Arkansas governor made his comments regarding Syrian refugees during the fourth Republican “undercard” debate for lower-polling candidates, hosted by the Fox Business Network. Moderator Sandra Smith asked Huckabee whether America should “open its door” to some of the millions of refugees from Syria, where a civil war and the rise of ISIS have forced people to flee. She noted that many of those refugees are Christians, and asked Huckabee — a Christian minister — how America should respond.
Huckabee said that, while he is “concerned” about the slaughter of Christians, he is more concerned about accidentally letting ISIS members into the United States, and giving them medical benefits.
“The idea that we’re just going to open our doors, and we have no idea who these people are … are we going to open the doors so that ISIS people have a place to stay, and a good sandwich, and medical benefits?” Huckabee asked.
The full, rough transcript is below:
MODERATOR: Governor Huckabee, you differ from many GOP opponents on the stage over accepting Syrian refugees into this country. You have said we don’t have an obligation to just open our doors. As the Islamic State continues to expand, slaughtering and crucifying Christians including women and children, refugees continue to flee their land by the thousands. Should America open its doors to accept any refugees in this country? If so, how many?
HUCKABEE: Sandra, I’ve been concerned that this administration has not done anything to help stop the slaughter of Christians. We didn’t help the Kurds, we said we would.
The idea [that] we’re just going to open our doors, and have no idea who these people are? What we do know is one out of five of the so-called Syrian refugees who went into Europe were actually Syrian. We had no idea who they were. They weren’t Syrian.
Are we going to open the door so ISIS people come on in, give them a place to stay and a good sandwich and medical benefits? My gosh, we’re $19 trillion in debt, we can’t afford to take care of Americans. If we’re going to do something for the Syrians, find out who they really are, and the ones really in danger.
Huckabee is not the first conservative to express concerns that ISIS — an extremist terrorist groups that proclaims itself Islamic — would infiltrate the U.S. through the refugee program. However, U.S. National Intelligence Director James Clapper has said he was confident in the U.S. government’s “pretty aggressive” screening program for prospective refugees.
As the Huffington Post explained, America’s refugee acceptance process “is hardly a matter of simply waving through the first 10,000 people who come forward … The screening process ‘typically takes 12 to 18 months … and the reason for that process is that the safety and security of the U.S. homeland comes first.’”
Huckabee’s comments regarding refugees at Tuesday night’s debate were also not the first time he’s suggested that some immigrants, including refugees, have less than honorable reasons for wanting to come to America. Back in March, Huckabee said that while some immigrants do want to “embrace our way of life,” others are only here “because they heard there is a bowl of food just across the border.”