Update 11/16/15 8:05 PM: Despite the fact that he is himself the son of a refugee who fled violence and turmoil, Sen. Ted Cruz went a step further Monday, as he pledged to introduce legislation banning Muslim Syrian refugees from entering the United States.
Cruz’s proposal comes in the wake of the Paris terror attacks last week and declarations from more than 20 state governors that they object to taking in Syrian refugees.
Since September, when this story first ran, the death toll in Syria since the outbreak of that country’s civil war has now risen to more than 250,000. 4 million people have fled Syria to escape the violence, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
The ultimate goal for the migrants seeking safety from the violence that is roiling North Africa and the Middle East should be for them to return home, the 2016 presidential contender said Tuesday, not to resettle them in America.
Europe has been in the grips of a migrant crisis, driven especially by violence in Syria, where fighting between the Assad regime, rebel factions, and ISIS have driven millions from their homes. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that the number of refugees fleeing Syria now exceeds 4 million, the largest refugee crisis in the UN agency’s history.
Cruz’s statement stands in stark contrast to his family story, which he frequently on the campaign trail uses to highlight the American dream and the importance of a country that values freedom and liberty. That story is about his father, Rafael Cruz, who fled Cuba to the United States after enduring torture at the hands of the Batista regime.
“America, quite simply, saved my father. America gave him a chance… The freedom of America was the dream that allowed him to endure the brutality of Cuba. It was and is a beacon of hope for all those who, like him, have endured oppression,” Cruz wrote in his recent memoir, A Time for Truth.
In early 2014, Cruz seemed to be singing a different tune: “We have welcomed refugees, the tired, huddled masses, for centuries—that’s been the history of the United States. We should continue to do so,” he said in a Fox segment about Syrian refugees. “We have to continue to be vigilant to make sure those coming are not affiliated with the terrorists. But we can do that.”
The United States has been particularly closed off to Syrian refugees: as of June, NPR reported, America has taken in fewer than 1,000 Syrian refugees out of more than 4 million fleeing the country.
“Sen. Cruz is advocating for humanitarian assistance to the refugees from both Syria and Iraq and North Africa,” Cruz spokesperson Catherine Frazier told The Daily Beast. “However, given the logistical challenges and the security risk posed by resettling large numbers of them far afield in the U.S., he is not in favor of this plan if the ultimate intent is to return them to their homes. As I’m sure you are aware, Cuba is 90 miles from the United States, so this was not the case with the senator’s father.”
Cruz’s position is especially frustrating for advocates who have been urging the United States to do more to confront the Assad regime and aid Syrian refugees. Evan Barrett, a political adviser to the Coalition for a Democratic Syria, a Syrian-American opposition umbrella group, called Cruz’s Tuesday remarks “disingenuous.”
“It is obvious that the Cruz campaign feels compelled by recent events to develop a position on the Syria refugee crisis. But not referencing the Assad regime, whose aerial attacks are the primary progenitor of refugees… suggest a campaign that’s in over its head,” Barrett said. “Resettling refugees will not end the conflict, nor allow regular Syrians to return to their stolen lives. However, for a presidential candidate whose Syria policy is as shallow as our current president’s, a more compassionate, informed stance on resettlement would be a good place to start.”
He continued, “Cruz is right that rather than a patchwork refugee resettlement plan, Syria requires a political solution. However, like our current president, Cruz offers no policy substance as to how to get there. This bold rhetorical stance—committing to destroying ISIS and fostering a climate for political negotiations—without any policy substance is the exact disease that plagues our current administration.”
Cruz blamed “radical Islamism” as the root cause for both the Shiite and Sunni violence in the region, arguing Tuesday that “ultimately, we need to address the cause of this crisis or we will just have more and more migrants displaced.” But the Texas senator didn’t explain what strategy might be.
In 2013, Cruz opposed airstrikes against the Assad regime, and later opposed arming the Syrian rebels. He wrote in The Washington Post that Assad was “not a direct threat to U.S. national security… Unilaterally avenging humanitarian disaster… is well outside the traditional scope of U.S. military action.”
“Our immediate role should be to support our regional allies who are on the front lines through public and private assistance to the international organizations who are best poised to administer aid,” Cruz said Tuesday.