Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, in the wake of Tuesday’s deadly terrorist attacks in Brussels, said that U.S. law enforcement needs to have the power to “patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods before they become radicalized.”
Asked about the plan hours later, fellow Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump said he agreed with Cruz’s suggestion.
“Yes, I would support that 100 percent,” Trump told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer in a live interview. “I think that’s a good idea.”
Before Trump weighed in, Cruz’s remarks provoked a storm of protest from the American Muslim community, civil libertarians and Democratic leaders.
“Ted Cruz is a disgrace,” said Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla. “His comments today were worse than opportunistic and inappropriate politicking in the wake of the terrible tragedy in Brussels – they were a shameful display of hate that only serves to foment anger and make the world less secure.”
At a hastily called news conference Tuesday in Washington, D.C., and in a statement, Cruz took aim at GOP front-runner Donald Trump and President Barack Obama on foreign policy. While bashing Trump on NATO, Cruz renewed his call to halt Obama’s plan to resettle 10,000 Syrian refugees in the United States. But the junior senator from Texas added a new wrinkle by advocating for increased scrutiny of Muslim neighborhoods by law enforcement.
“Our European allies are now seeing what comes of a toxic mix of migrants who have been infiltrated by terrorists and isolated, radical Muslim neighborhoods,” Cruz said.
“We will do what we can to help them fight this scourge, and redouble our efforts to make sure it does not happen here. We need to immediately halt the flow of refugees from countries with a significant al Qaeda or ISIS presence,” said Cruz. “We need to empower law enforcement to patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods before they become radicalized.”
The call for profiling reverberated immediately, especially with civil libertarian groups, including some that successfully won a settlement earlier this year with the New York Police Department over post 9/11 surveillance of Muslims and mosques and infiltration of the community with informants.
“Profiling people based on religion is blatantly unconstitutional, ineffective and counterproductive,” Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU National Security Project, said in an interview.
“This was a settlement that sent a forceful message throughout the country,” said Shamsi, who was part of the lawsuit. Any attempt to try such tactics again would be immediately challenged, she added. “It seems like a competition between politicians to make matters worse,” said Shamsi.
Trump and Cruz are the top two Republicans running for president, and they were competing for voters Tuesday in a primary in Arizona and caucuses in Utah. Trump in December called for a ban on U.S. entry to all Muslims.
Arab-American groups on Tuesday quickly condemned the candidates’ idea.
“The actions and policy recommendations of the two leading GOP presidential candidates send an alarming message to American Muslims who increasingly fear for their future in this nation and to all Americans who value the Constitution and religious liberties,” said Council on American-Islamic Relations National Executive Director Nihad Awad.
But Cruz’s comments struck a nerve. “We believe it’s unconstitutional and unbefitting a person seeking our nation’s highest office,” said Ibrahim Hooper, communications director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations. “It’s something you wouldn’t expect from someone running for dog catcher, let alone president of the United States.”
Osama Siblani, publisher of the Arab American News in Dearborn, Mich., home of one of the nation’s largest Arab-American communities, said, “Cruz needs to have some screws tightened.”
“Both Republican candidates, Cruz and Trump, they are playing on the fears and ignorance of people,” Siblani said. “Muslims cannot be patrolled separately, profiled in the way he’s talking. It’s a shame that the presidential race has sunk to such a low level of communicating the message to the American people.”
Cruz also used the Brussels attacks to lash out at Republican presidential rival Trump, accusing the billionaire businessman of wanting to “withdraw from the world” for questioning the United States’ role in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the Cold War-era defense pact.
Cruz called Trump, Obama and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton weak on terrorism. The junior senator from Texas said comments Trump made to The Washington Post editorial board expressing concerns about NATO prove that the billionaire front-runner wants the U.S. to shrink its role on the world stage.
“It is striking that the day after Donald Trump called for America weakening NATO, withdrawing from NATO, we see Brussels, where NATO is headquartered, the subject of an Islamic terrorist attack,” Cruz told reporters.
Trump told The Post editorial board that “I think the concept of NATO is good, but I do think the United States has to have some help.”
“We are not helped,” Trump said. “I’ll give you better example of that. I mean, we pay billions – hundreds of billions of dollars to supporting other countries that are in theory wealthier than we are.”
Trump said he didn’t want the United States to withdraw from NATO, but he added that the defense pact with European nations was “set up at a different time.”
“NATO was set up when we were a richer country,” he said. “We’re not a rich country … NATO is costing us a fortune and, yes, we’re protecting Europe, but we’re spending a lot of money.”