U.S. President Barack Obama reiterated his opposition Sunday to calls for increasing barriers for accepting Iraqi and Syrian refugees that he said would not make the country any safer and effectively end the refugee program "for people who desperately need it."
He told reporters in Kuala Lumpur that he understands why lawmakers moved quickly on that type of legislation following the terror attacks in Paris, but that he hopes people understand that refugees are the most thoroughly investigated people who arrive in the U.S.
“There’s a difference between being vigilant and being concerned and taking this seriously and taking precautions and in some cases changing out security arrangements as we’ve done for example in aviation," Obama said.
"There’s a difference between smart applications of law enforcement and military and intelligence and succumbing to the kind of fear that leads us to abandon our values, to abandon how we live, to abandon or change how we treat each other.”
The president on Saturday visited school in the Malaysian capital where many of the children are refugees from Myanmar and said they were "indistinguishable from American children." He returned to them in his Sunday comments about staying true to American values.
President Barack Obama listens to a girl while meeting with children during his tour to the Dignity for Children Foundation in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Nov. 21, 2015.
"If you are a parent and you saw those kids, and you thought about what they had gone through, the notion that we couldn't find a home for them anywhere in the United States of America? that is contrary to our values," Obama said. "The good news is that the overwhelming majority of people who know that we are screening and all the precautions that are already taken, if they saw those kids they'd say yeah, we need to do right by those children."
Islamic State claimed responsibility for the coordinated multiple terrorist attacks on Paris on November 13, killing 130 people and wounding more than 350. French investigators said some of the gunmen might have taken advantage of Europe's refugee crisis and chaos to slip into the country unnoticed.
This created a fierce anti-Muslim, anti-refugee backlash across the United States that has been seen in town hall meetings, social media and Congress, as well as from several presidential candidates.
The governors of 31 states, including some where the cities whose mayors signed the letter are located, asked that resettlement of Syrian refugees in the United States be halted.
The Republican-led House passed a bill putting more restrictions on Syrian and Iraqi refugees. President Barack Obama has said he will veto the measure if it also is passed by the Senate.
Obama welcomes refugees
Obama has promised to open the door to 10,000 Syrian refugees over the next year. On Saturday, during a visit to Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Muslim majority Malaysia, Obama watched a group of Muslim schoolchildren drawing pictures and doing their math assignments.
He said "The notion that somehow we should be fearful of them, that our politics would somehow leave them to turn our sights away from their plight, is not representative of the best of who we are."
Trump and Republicans
Donald Trump, the leading Republican candidate in the race to follow Obama as president, said again Saturday that Muslims in America could come under much closer scrutiny if he is elected.
Trump said he wants "certain mosques" to be put under surveillance and said some could be shut down.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign stop in Birmingham, Alabama, Nov. 21, 2015.
When a reporter for NBC News asked the Republican front-runner if, as president, all Muslins would have to register in a nationwide database, Trump said, "I would certainly implement it, absolutely."
He has tried to back away from his response, saying a database was not his idea but something a reporter brought up. He has since said only that Syrians now arriving in the country should register.
Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson agrees with Trump that mosques "where there's a lot of radicalization" need extra surveillance.
Several other Republican candidates have criticized the idea of registering Muslims as un-American, but also believe the U.S. must realistically deal with the challenge posed by terrorism and the global refugee crisis.
The top Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton, has called for more airstrikes and military action against Islamic State. But she says she would not close the U.S. border to refugees, saying that is exactly what the extremists want the U.S. to do.