-- Sen. Ted Cruz defended his call to allow only Syrian Christian refugees into the United States, saying it wouldn't be difficult to screen for religion.
"At the end of the day it's not that complicated. There's no history of ISIS terrorists embedding in the Christian community and pretending to be Christian," Cruz said in an exclusive interview with ABC News' Chief White House Correspondent Jon Karl.
"If that were occurring, we would work to prevent it. And any refugee coming into this country should be thoroughly vetted, I'm not saying that anyone should be exempted from vetting."
Cruz is one of several presidential candidates in the days since the terrorist attacks in Paris to criticize and call for changes to U.S. plans to bring in Syrian refugees. Cruz said he plans to propose legislation to ban Syrian Muslims from coming to the United States.
"We should not be allowing Muslim refugees from countries where ISIS and al Qaeda have control of significant amounts of territory because of the inability of this administration, the inability of our intelligence sources to distinguish between who is and is not an ISIS terrorist," Cruz told Karl.
Officials from the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security maintained that the U.S. subjects Syrian refugees to “the most rigorous screening and security vetting of any category of people entering the United States” during a conference call today, including biometric testing and overseas interviews with DHS experts.
During testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee in October, the head of the United States’ Citizenship and Immigration Services’ Refugee Affairs Division Chief Barbara Strack also noted that the agency had implemented additional security protocols for Syrian refugee applications, referring many cases to fraud detection officials for additional review and research.
On the campaign trail, Cruz often makes a point to describe what he calls the persecution of Christians in Middle Eastern countries.
"When you see Christians being beheaded and crucified by ISIS trying to engage in genocide, we ought to be a beacon of hope and a safe haven for the Christians that are fleeing that persecution," said Cruz at a campaign stop in Sun City, South Carolina Monday.
Cruz asserted that ISIS is subjecting Christians to a genocide in the Middle East. When pressed about the large numbers of Muslims being murdered in Syria too, Cruz said, "But they're not facing genocide the way Christians are."
"And beyond that, there's no credible threat that Christians fleeing Middle East violence are likely to carry out acts of terrorism," Cruz added.
When asked if Cruz was asserting that all Muslims are terrorists or may become terrorists, Cruz said, "What I'm suggesting is the commander-in-chief should protect this nation."
President Obama has criticized Cruz for his call for only Syrian Christians to come to the United States, saying that it equates to a religious test and calling it "Un-American."
"Indeed just yesterday, President Obama attacked me directly and called me Un-American. I got to say for Pres. Obama to call me Un-American and to do it from Turkey no less, that was a little bit rich," Cruz said.