Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump on Monday pledged to administer a values test to foreign nationals seeking admission to the United States.
Saying that the U.S. must do a better job of knowing more about the people it grants visas and permanent residency to, Trump said he would use stricter vetting to block those who are sympathetic to terrorist groups or who embrace values that contradict those that strengthen this country.
A stricter, more elaborate vetting system, the candidate said, would require putting a hold on immigration from certain areas that he described as dangerous.
Speaking at Youngstown State University in swing state Ohio, Trump also said his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton lacks the "mental and physical stamina" to take on the Islamic State, also known as ISIS. He said destroying the terror group would be the centerpiece of his foreign policy, and he would partner with any countries that share that goal – specifically singling out Russia as a nation the U.S. could have a better relationship with.
"Any country that shares this goal will be our ally," Trump said. "We can never choose our friends, but we can never fail to recognize our enemies."
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Trump's campaign aides said the ideological test for admission to the United States would vet applicants for their stance on issues like religious freedom, gender equality and gay rights. The government would use questionnaires, social media, interviews with friends and family and other means to determine if applicants truly support American values like tolerance and pluralism. The U.S. would stop issuing visas in cases in which it cannot perform adequate screenings.
Additional speeches with more details are expected in the weeks ahead, the aides said.
Ahead of Trump's address, Clinton and Vice President Joe Biden vigorously challenged the Republican nominee's preparedness to be commander-in-chief. Biden called Trump's views "dangerous" and "un-American" and warned that the Republican nominee's assertions last week about President Obama having founded ISIS could be used by extremists to target American service members in Iraq.
"The threat to their life has gone up a couple clicks," Biden said.
While Trump has been harshly critical of Obama's handling of the threat posed by ISIS, his own strategy for defeating the group remain vague. His most specific prescription centers on changing U.S. immigration policy to keep potential attackers from entering the country.
Trump did not clarify how U.S. officials would assess the veracity of responses to the questionnaires or how much manpower it would require to complete such vetting. Nor did the campaign say whether additional screenings would apply to the millions of tourists who visit the United States each year.
The Republican nominee's foreign policy address comes during a rocky stretch for his campaign.
He has struggled to stay on message and has consistently overshadowed his policy rollouts, including an economic speech last week, with provocative statements, including comments declaring that Obama was the "founder" of ISIS.
Trump spent much of the speech at Youngstown State building an argument that Obama and Clinton are to blame for the creation of the terror group that has roiled the Middle East and carried out attacks in the West. He specifically highlighted the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq in late 2011, arguing the move created a vacuum in which terror groups have thrived.
Reiterating a favorite criticism from Republicans, Trump also panned the Obama administration for not using the phrase "radical Islamic terrorism."
Obama, Clinton and top U.S. officials have warned against using language that could enflame anti-American sentiment.
Trump's immigration proposals were the latest in a string of policy proposals that began after the Paris terror attack last November with his call to temporarily bar foreign Muslims from entering the country — a religious test that was criticized across party lines as un-American.
Following a massacre at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, in June, Trump introduced a new standard, vowing to "suspend immigration from areas of the world where there is a proven history of terrorism against the United States, Europe or our allies, until we fully understand how to end these threats."
That proposal raised a number of questions that his campaign never clarified, including whether the standard would apply to citizens of countries like France, Israel or Ireland, which have suffered recent and past attacks. Trump had promised to release a list of "terror countries," but aides say the campaign needs access to unreleased Department of Homeland Security data to assess exactly where the most serious threats lie.
Based on reporting by the Associated Press.