— -- It was more than a month ago that Nora Barre, a 34-year-old Syrian-American woman, declared her support for Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush.
“I’m all in for Jeb,” she declared proudly in September when interviewed by ABC News.
Like so many others, the New Hampshire resident was horrified by the attacks in Paris, knowing that the reverberations would strike close to home. She has 14 family members in Syria, all imperiled by ISIS’s continued march there.
She was particularly concerned about five of her family members -- her uncle, his wife, and their three children, ages 12, 9 and 2. They had successfully fled to Turkey and traveled to the U.S. embassy in Ankara just this Monday, according to Barre.
“They were probably among the first ones to enter the embassy post the Paris attacks,” she said.
She said they were turned away after being asked only three questions. She began to sob as she recalled their treatment.
“People weren’t very nice to them, they were very suspicious,” she said. “They’ve already been through so much. ... What did we do?”
Her situation places Bush in a moral bind. They first met in late September when she traveled to his town hall in Bedford, New Hampshire, and tearfully told the story of her family members that she was trying to get out of Syria. He hugged her and said that the United States was duty-bound to take those in need.
At the time he said, “People are leaving not because they’re immigrants looking for a better life, they’re leaving because if not they’ll die. It’s that simple.”
Since then, he has incorporated Barre’s story into his stump speech, initially saying that her family were all Christian. She has appeared in a digital campaign video, using her story to highlight why the U.S. needs a strategy in the Middle East. Her daughter has led his town hall audiences in the Pledge of Allegiance, all of which could complicate Bush’s potentially polarizing views on invoking a religious test to dole out aid.
Unlike many of his Republican rivals, Bush believes that a small number of refugees should be brought into the United States. But he has stoked some controversy for calling for a “focus” to be put on helping Christian refugees. He told NBC News on Sunday, “I do think we have -- we have a responsibility to help with refugees after proper screening. And I think our focus ought to be on the Christians.”
Barre wouldn’t disclose the religion of her family members who she says were turned away from the embassy, but she acknowledged that some of her family members were, in fact, Muslim and says that both her Muslim and Christian family members are suffering in Syria.
“We’re a secular country,” she said. “I don’t think religion should be a filter. These are human beings. People should be vetted no matter what we are. Can you imagine that if in World War II, this country said that you had to be Christian to come?”
Today, when pressed by reporters on how he would identify who is a Christian, Bush said, "I mean you can prove you’re a Christian.”
ABC News asked specifically about Nora's family. "“A family like Nora’s or anybody that’s in ISIS related territory that’s a Christian," he began. He was then alerted that some of her family members were not Christian.
"They should be thoroughly vetted and we should do everything we can to provide safe havens in the region and that’s exactly what I’ve proposed," he responded.
President Obama has condemned candidates who advocated utilizing a religious test for refugees.
"When I hear folks say that maybe we should just admit the Christians and not the Muslims [refugees], when I hear political leaders suggesting that there would be a religious test for which person who's fleeing from a war-torn country is admitted, when some of those folks themselves come from families who benefited from protection when they were fleeing political persecution, that's shameful. That's not American," Obama said on Monday, raising his voice.
Bush replied, saying that the President should solve the problem so there is no need to bring refugees in.
Barre said she is outraged by the reactions many Republican candidates and governors have taken in calling for the government to cease bringing refugees in, especially candidates like Ted Cruz who have said that they would not allow Muslim refugees into the country.
“They’re agitating a culture of hate,” she said angrily. “It makes me so sad because this is not what America is about. ... Watching all these governors is so disappointing and disheartening.”
She said she is still a strong Bush supporter and hopes that this will be a litmus test that the candidate she supports will pass. And for the other candidates, she wishes for some compassion.
“It’s un-American for us to do what we’re doing,” she said.