(CNSNews.com) - "If I’m elected president, we will not let in refugees from countries controlled by ISIS or Al Qaida," Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said at Thursday's night's debate in South Carolina.
Although Cruz was the first candidate to be asked about refugees, all of the candidates weighed in, and their responses are included below.
Cruz said he understands why Donald Trump called for a ban on all Muslim immigrants "until we can figure out what's going on," as Trump put it.
"You know, I understand why Donald made the comments he did, and I understand why Americans are feeling frustrated and scared and angry when we have a president who refuses to acknowledge the threat we face and even worse, who acts as an apologist for radical Islamic terrorism."
Cruz said his priority as president would be a laser-like focus on keeping the country safe. "What should we do?" he asked.
"First, we should pass the Expatriate Terrorist Act, legislation I’ve introduced that says if an American goes and joins ISIS and wages jihad against America, that you forfeit your citizenship and you can not come in on a passport. (Applause)
"And secondly, we should pass the legislation that I’ve introduced…that suspends all refugees from nations (where) ISIS or Al Qaida controls significant territory. Just last week, we see saw two Iraqi refugees vetted using the same process the president says will work, that were arrested for being alleged ISIS terrorists.
"If I’m elected president, we will not let in refugees from countries controlled by ISIS or Al Qaida. When it comes to ISIS, we will not weaken them, we will not degrade them, we will utterly and completely destroy ISIS," Cruz concluded.
Trump: 'Stop With political correctness'
Donald Trump, asked if would "rethink" his ban on Muslim immigrants, was succinct: "No," he said. The audience laughed. "No," he repeated, this time to applause.
"Look, we have to stop with political correctness. We have to get down to creating a country that’s not going to have the kind of problems that we’ve had with people flying planes into the World Trade Centers, with the — with the shootings in California, with all the problems all over the world."
Trump repeated that his ban on Muslims would be temporary, not permanent.
"But we have a serious problem. And we can’t be the stupid country any more. We’re laughed at all over the world."
Jeb Bush: No blanket ban on Muslims
Jeb Bush urged Trump to reconsider, "because this policy is a policy that makes it impossible to build the coalition necessary to take out ISIS. The Kurds are our strongest allies. They’re Muslim. You’re not going to even allow them to come to our country?
"The other Arab countries have a role to play in this. We cannot be the world’s policeman. We can’t do this unilaterally. We have to do this in unison with the Arab world. And sending that signal makes it impossible for us to be serious about taking out ISIS and restoring democracy in Syria." (Applause)
"So I hope you’ll reconsider. I hope you’ll reconsider," Bush continued. "The better way of dealing with this — the better way of dealing with this is recognizing that there are people in, you know, the — Islamic terrorists inside, embedded in refugee populations.
"What we ought to do is tighten up our efforts to deal with the entry visa program so that a citizen from Europe, it’s harder if they’ve been traveling to Syria or traveling to these other places where there is Islamic terrorism, make it harder — make the screening take place.
"We don’t have to have refugees come to our country, but all Muslims, seriously? What kind of signal does that send to the rest of the world that the United States is a serious player in creating peace and security?"
Moderator Neil Cavuto asked Bush if Americans who agree with Donald Trump on banning Muslim immigrants "are unhinged."
"No, not at all, absolutely not," Bush responded. "I can see why people are angry and scared, because this president has created a condition where our national security has weakened dramatically. I totally get that. But we’re running for the presidency of the United States here. This isn’t — this isn’t, you know, a different kind of job. You have to lead. You cannot make rash statements and expect the rest of the world to respond as though, well, it’s just politics.
"Every time we send signals like this, we send a signal of weakness, not strength."
Trump jumped in again: "I want security for this country. OK? I want security. I’m tired of seeing what’s going on, between the border where the people flow over; people come in; they live; they shoot. I want security for this country. We have a serious problem with, as you know, with radical Islam. We have a tremendous problem. It’s not only a problem here. It’s a problem all over the world," Trump insisted.
"I want to find out why those two young people — those two horrible young people in California when they shot the 14 people, killed them — people they knew, people that held the wedding reception for them. I want to find out — many people saw pipe bombs and all sorts of things all over their apartment. Why weren’t they vigilant? Why didn’t they call? Why didn’t they call the police?
"And by the way, the police are the most mistreated people in this country. I will tell you that. The most mistreated people.
"In fact, we need to — wait a minute — we need vigilance. We have to find out — many people knew about what was going on. Why didn’t they turn those two people in so that you wouldn’t have had all the death?
"There’s something going on and it’s bad. And I’m saying we have to get to the bottom of it. That’s all I’m saying. We need security."
John Kasich: Improve vetting
Ohio Gov. John Kasich said he's for "pausing" the admission of Syrian refugees because "I don’t believe we have a good process of being able to vet them. But you know, we don’t want to put everybody in the same category." He said that would hurt efforts to build an anti-ISIS coalition.
Chris Christie: No Syrian refugees of any kind
Gov. Chris Christie noted that "right from the beginning," he's said "that we should take no Syrian refugees of any kind. And the reason I said that is because the FBI director told the American people, told Congress, that he could not guarantee he could vet them and it would be safe. That’s the end of the conversation.
"I can tell you, after spending seven years as a former federal prosecutor, right after 9/11, dealing with this issue. Here’s the way you need to deal with it. You can’t just ban all Muslims. You have to ban radical Islamic jihadists. You have to ban the people who are trying to hurt us.
"The only way to figure that out is to go back to getting the intelligence community the funding and the tools that it needs to be able to keep America safe."
Rubio: If we do not know who you are, goodbye
Sen. Marco Rubio said the reason Republicans are having the debate about Syrian refugees is because President Obama "has consistently underestimated the threat of ISIS."
"So you know what needs to happen -- it’s a very simple equation, and it’s going to happen when I’m president. If we do not know who you are, and we do not know why you are coming when I am president, you are not getting into the United States of America."
Carson: Ask the experts
According to Dr. Ben Carson, "What we need to do is get a group of experts together, including people from other countries, some of our friends from Israel, who have had experience screening these people and come up with new guidelines for immigration, and for visas, for people who are coming into this country.
"That is the thing that obviously makes sense, we can do that. And as far as the Syrians are concerned, Al-Hasakah province, perfect place. They have infrastructure. All we need to do is protect them, they will be in their own country." (He was talking about so-called safe zones or no-fly zones over Syria.)