RENO, Nev. – Hard-line stances against admitting refugees to the United States are a mistake because they hurt law enforcement's ability to build ties within Muslim communities, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton said on Monday.
The U.S. should not want to send a message that gives any support to terrorists looking create divisions between the U.S. and Muslims, Clinton said at a round-table discussion with Nevada reporters, adding, "That is not smart,"
"If you're in law enforcement, ... you want the people in the communities that you are looking to get information from to feel like they want to help you," Clinton said. "And if the message from people who are running for president, for example, is that we don't want to take any Muslims whatsoever, that's not good for law enforcement."
Clinton was campaigning in Nevada amid calls for new restrictions on refugees fleeing war-torn Syria in the aftermath of attacks in Paris that killed 130 people and wounded hundreds more. The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for the attacks.
The Democratic presidential candidate said the federal government should "make vetting as strong and smart and careful as it can be," but she cautioned against how opposition to admitting refugees who are Muslim might be received.
"Let's not be casting this broad, negative rejection of everybody who might be Muslim. That is not smart to protect ourselves," Clinton said. "And I want people to understand — that is a law enforcement issue."
She said later at a rally at a Reno middle school that "these terrorists are killers, they're thugs, they're criminals. They need to be treated like that. Not elevated as though they were representing a religion, because even though they claim to, they are not."
Republican presidential contender Donald Trump pledged during the weekend to be the toughest of all candidates in response to the terror attacks and suggested he would support ways to track Muslims in the U.S.
Clinton said refugees would face a "multistep process" and it would take "18-24 months before someone is even considered to be able to come to this country. So the process is very time-consuming."
She also decried what she called "fear tactics and scare mongering and inflammatory rhetoric" focused only on refugees.
"The 9/11 hijackers — they came here legally. They came on visas, and they flew into our airports," she told hundreds of attendees at the rally. "So we can't just be focused on refugees who might or might not get here in two years. We have to be focused on anyone who poses a threat to us right now, and we have to pay attention and work with our friends . to protect ourselves."
The former secretary of state is competing for support in Nevada's caucuses next February against Democratic rivals Bernie Sanders and Martin O'Malley. Clinton picked up the endorsement of the International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental and Reinforcing Ironworkers, a union that represents 120,000 ironworkers in North America.
Associated Press writer Ken Thomas in Washington contributed to this report.