Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, whose presidential campaign has become a crusade for "religious liberty" and the rights of the unborn, told social conservatives this weekend that they should be skeptical of allowing more Syrian refugees into the United States.
"Are they really escaping tyranny, are they escaping poverty, or are they really just coming because we've got cable TV?" Huckabee asked, in an audience question-and-answer session at the conservative Eagle Forum conference in St. Louis. "I don't meant to be trite. I'm just saying: We don't know."
Huckabee's stance put him in line with most of the 2016 race's conservative candidates. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has warned that radicals might make it through the packs of refugees, citing the 2011 case of two Iraqis who found homes in Paul's home town, then were convicted of aiding in terrorism. In an interview with The Washington Post, Ben Carson said some refugees could be allowed in, but only after screenings that might take a full year. In a statement to reporter Tim Mak, the campaign of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) said that he opposed the resettlement of Syrian refugees in the United States, citing "the logistical challenges and the security risk" -- an apparent evolution from his 2014 statement that America could welcome the "tired, huddled masses" if they were screened properly.
Huckabee told Eagle Forum activists that he had "a better solution" to the crisis than mere resettlement.
"I just read that Saudi Arabia has offered to build 600 mosques for all of the Muslims that will come to the U.S. or to Europe," he said. "I've got a better idea: Why doesn't Saudi Arabia host them, and we will send some assistance through our charitable organizations for some hospitals and schools? We will design the curriculum for those schools. They won't be madrassas to teach terrorism."
According to the Lebanese newspaper al-Diyar, the Saudis -- who are not taking new refugees from Syria -- offered to build one mosque in Germany for every 100 refugees.
"This idea that we have an obligation to receive vast numbers of people ... we have a real obligation to make sure that we protect the sovereignty of the United States," said Huckabee. "That's not a lack of Christian charity. It's the essence of charity, to provide for needs, but not to put your own children at risk, if what you're importing could be people who have a nefarious purpose for wanting to be here."
After the speech and Q&A, The Washington Post asked Huckabee to react to Pope Francis's call for Christians to harbor refugees. "I think Christians ought to provide relief," said Huckabee. "Whether we should bring them to the United States, or we should help make sure that needs are being met, closer to their culture, country, language. Bringing them to the United States would be a language shock, a culture shock, perhaps a religious shock. Perhaps there should be opportunity to review and give consideration of people who are escaping the swords of ISIS and are being beheaded because they're Christian, or because they're Jewish, or because they're Muslim. We should consider that."
The pope said something similar in a radio interview this weekend, acknowledging a "danger of infiltration" as Europe opened its borders. Among conservatives in Europe and the United States, the apparent danger has been inflated by occasionally fact-challenged memes about who's getting in. And Donald Trump, the Republican front-runner who's been open to allowing more refugees into the country, has drawn friendly fire from Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America.
"It’s especially surprising, especially shocking, that here’s the man who said, 'Let’s not bring in illegal Mexicans, allow that to happen, because so many of them are killers and rapists,'" Klein told TPM reporter Catherine Thompson. "Why would he be worried about Mexicans and not worried about Syrians? It just makes no sense."