2016 Presidential Candidates Address The Refugee Crisis

September 8th 2015

In the face of a fast-growing humanitarian crisis as thousands of refugees from Middle Eastern and North African countries have flooded nearby countries en masse in recent months, European leaders have pledged to accommodate, in some cases, hundreds of thousands of fleeing refugees.

But as nations step forward to take in surging numbers of refugees, others have been conspicuously reluctant to make any big promises. Among these is the U.S., which, according to the latest data, has taken in nearly 1,500 Syrian refugees—one of the most numerous refugee populations—since 2011, when the conflict in that country began.

The Obama administration hinted this week that it would consider raising its current "refugee ceiling" from 70,000, but pending political solutions in countries such as Syria, the number of refugees seeking asylum will likely go up. So should the U.S. agree to take on more refugees from Middle Eastern and North African countries?

According to the Guardian, which reached out to 2016's contenders last week seeking stances on the crisis, the answers are mixed. Many campaigns did not respond with answers indicating they think the U.S. should accept more refugees, or how they would define U.S. policy to those seeking refuge from war-torn and impoverished countries. Others gave unequivocal answers to the publication, or to other media outlets in recent days.

Here are the presidential primary candidates who have voiced opinions on the crisis so far.

Martin O'Malley (D)

Martin O'MalleyAP Photo/Charlie Neibergall - apimages.com

Of all the 22 contenders, O'Malley has been by far the most straightforward on the issue, telling the Guardian last week that the U.S. needed to accept 65,000 Syrian refugees in 2016—a marked increase from the fewer than 40 it accepted in 2013. "If Germany—a country with one-fourth our population—can accept 800,000 refugees this year, certainly we—the nation of immigrants and refugees—can do more," he said in a statement.

Hillary Rodham Clinton (D)

Hillary Clinton For Profit Colleges

The Democratic front-runner, while remaining vague on the specific role of the U.S., told the Associated Press in an interview Monday that the crisis required a "concerted global effort," adding that "everyone should be asked to do more," and that there needs to be a "broad-based global response" to effectively handle displaced populations. "The United States certainly should be at the table, but so should everybody else," Clinton said, noting that countries do not agree to physically support the refugees, "they should do more financially[.]"

Clinton's comments Monday followed earlier remarks more or less illustrating the same approach. "I would hope that under the aegis of the United Nations, led by the security council, and certainly by the United States, which has been such a generous nation in the past... we would begin to try to find ways to help people get to safety in other lands. However, that does not solve the problem, and the problem is one that, the entire world sees, doesn't just affect the Syrian people—it's affects all of us," Clinton told MSNBC previously.

Lincoln Chafee (D)

The former governor of Rhode Island told the Guardian that the U.S. should be "unfortunately" held responsible for the refugee crisis since its "invasion of Iraq and the spread of chaos in the region as a result." Chafee did not, however, say that the U.S. should take more refugees in.

Scott Walker (R)

Gov. Scott Walker

The Wisconsin governor said in a statement to the Guardian over the weekend that while refugees pose a real problem, there are bigger issues. "Until we start dealing directly with ISIS, we're avoiding the core of the problem," he said. "The problem is that ISIS is running amok in these parts of the world. The United States needs to step up and deal with it."

John Kasich (R)

John KasichMarc Nozell / Flickr - flickr.com

The Ohio governor said Sunday that the U.S. should be at least partially responsible for accepting refugees, but that the bulk of that responsibility "fundamentally falls on Europe."

"I think we do have a responsibility in terms of taking some more folks in, making sure they assimilate, and at the same time helping more people to actually be safe as they move," he said in an interview with ABC.

Marco Rubio (R)

Marco RubioFlickr/Gage Skidmore - flic.kr

The Florida Senator said in an interview with Boston Herald Radio that he was "open to" the U.S. taking on more refugees, provided that there were assurances those refugees were free of ties to terrorist groups.

"We've always been a country that has been willing to accept people who have been displaced and I would be open to that if it can be done in a way that allows us to ensure that among them are not... people who are part of a terrorist organization," Rubio told the radio station. "The vast and overwhelming majority of people who are seeking refuge are not terrorists, or course, but you always are concerned about that." Rubio also said that the violence that has fueled much of the exodus should be blamed on the "failed foreign policy" of previous administrations.

Bobby Jindal (R)

Bobby JindalFlickr/Gage Skidmore - flic.kr

The Louisiana governor took aim at Obama's "leading from behind" strategy, which he said was to blame for the refugee crisis, in a statement to the Guardian. Jindal also said taking on more refugees in the U.S. would be a "ridiculous" approach to resolving the crisis.

"And no, the answer is not for America to increase the number of refugees we take in. We are already the most compassionate and generous country in the world and it is not even close," he said, referring to the "amount of assistance for hurting people around the world[.]"

"But the idea that we can fix all these problems by just accepting the world's refugees is ridiculous. We simply have to get a new commander in chief, fast," Jindal added.

Donald Trump (R)

Donald TrumpGage Skidmore / Flickr - flickr.com

Trump's campaign has been characterized by the most expressly anti-immigration policy proposals, but the GOP front-runner told MSNBC last week that the "answer is possibly yes, possibly yes," to the U.S. accepting more refugees. "It is a huge problem and we should help as much as possible, but we do have to fix our own country," he noted.

Carly Fiorina (R)

Carly FiorinaBigStockPhoto/Christopher Halloran - bigstockphoto.com

The former Hewlett Packard CEO told CBS' Face the Nation on Sunday that the U.S. could not afford to relax immigration criteria in the interest of national security, though she called the crisis "heartbreaking." "I think the United States, sadly, cannot relax our entrance criteria," she said, adding that "We are having to be very careful about who we let enter this country from these war-torn regions to ensure that terrorists are not coming here."

Rand Paul (R)

Rand Paul Running for PresidentCQ Roll Call via AP Images - apimages.com

Kentucky Senator Rand Paul told CNN that letting in refugees from war-torn countries had already proven to be dangerous business, citing cases from Iraq and Somalia. "We are a welcoming nation, and we have accepted a lot of refugees, and I think we will continue to do so. But we also can't accept the whole world, so I think there are some limits," he said.

Share your opinion

Do you think it's the world's responsibility to help refugees?

No 8%Yes 92%