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Carson hits Trump’s Muslim immigrant ban as faith bias

Chad Livengood
Detroit News Lansing Bureau
Presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson speaks at the Convocation Center of Eastern Michigan University Wednesday.

Ypsilanti — Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson said Wednesday that GOP frontrunner Donald Trump’s call for blocking all Muslims from entering the country would be unconstitutional discrimination.

“You can’t discriminate against people based on their religion,” Carson said in an interview with The Detroit News. “That really would not be consistent with the First Amendment rights guaranteed by our Constitution.”

Carson sought to distinguish himself from Trump’s approach to dealing with a growing tide of refugees fleeing war-torn Syria amid security concerns following a terrorism-linked attack in California that left 14 dead.

“When it comes to the Syrian refugees, there are those who want to present us with two options: We bring tens of thousands of them here or we turn our backs in cold hard indifference,” Carson said. “Those are not the only options. The other option is to take care of them over there.”

Carson visited with Syrian refugees in Jordan last month and said they told him they want to remain in or near their homeland, but it would require the financial support of the U.S. government.

“(The refugees) said their preference was to stay where they are,” Carson told The News. “Raising $3 billion per year solves that problem.”

In a speech Wednesday to 400 supporters at Eastern Michigan University’s convocation center, Carson called for expanded relief programs for refugees in the Middle East to stem the tide of immigration into Europe and eventually the United States.

Carson called for moderate Muslim clerics and imams in the United States to help law enforcement officials identify Muslims who may be harboring terrorist intentions.

“They need to help us identify radicalized people,” Carson said. “If they can’t identify them, how are we supposed to? ... The moderate Arab-American community needs to be involved, because the American people will develop a great deal of more confidence when they are the ones pointing out the radicalized people.”

Carson, the only African-American candidate running for president in 2016, also cautioned against targeting the entire Muslim faith.

“What I don’t want to see is people just being persecuted because of what they look like,” he said. “I don’t see that happening in our country. But I know that will eventually happen if we don’t have a way of distinguishing the good ones from the bad ones.”

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Carson’s standing in national polls has been falling after he briefly overtook Trump in November. He has been criticized for a lack of clarity on national security issues and mispronouncing the name of the terrorist group Hamas during a speech last week at the Republican Jewish Coalition presidential candidates forum.

During his EMU speech, Carson mocked media critics who panned him for pronouncing Hamas like the mashed chickpea dip hummus. “Oh, he’s so stupid, he can’t even pronounce that word,” he said, generating laughter from the crowd.

On Tuesday, Carson announced he has hired a new foreign policy adviser. George Birnbaum, a former chief of staff to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, will advise Carson on foreign affairs, his campaign said.

The campaign also said Tuesday it has assembled a group of 15 former military commanders and policy analysts to serve on a national security and foreign policy advisory committee.

Mark McDonald, 55, of Northville, attended Wednesday’s town hall event at EMU and said he finds Carson approach to battling terrorism more credible than Trump’s rhetoric.

“Ben Carson is a serious contender and Donald Trump is more of a clown,” McDonald said. “This isn’t a TV show. This is the person who is going to guide the free world.”

clivengood@detroitnews.com

(517) 371-3660

Twitter.com/ChadLivengood