Obama Calls Caring for Refugees ‘American Leadership’

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KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (CNN) — President Barack Obama made another emotional case Saturday for welcoming migrants, who are fleeing violence, into the United States.

Doing so, he argued, would demonstrate American values around the globe.

“When we talk about American leadership, American leadership is us caring about people who have been forgotten or who have been discriminated against or who’ve been tortured or who’ve been subject to unspeakable violence or who’ve been separated from families at very young ages,” he said Saturday.

“That’s when we’re the shining light on the hill,” he said. “Not when we respond on the basis of fear.”

He was speaking at a center in the Malaysian capital that works to provide support for young refugees, including those from the Rohingya ethnic minority who have fled ethnic violence in Myanmar.

Obama met several young refugees Saturday, bending down to ask their names and ages as they worked on art projects at the center.

The stop was placed on the president’s schedule in Kuala Lumpur before the terror attacks in Paris, and the subsequent backlash against a plan to increase the number of Syrian refugees allowed into the United States. White House officials said the stop was meant to highlight the global refugee crisis as most attention is focused on the migrants fleeing the Syrian civil war.

Obama has spent much of his foreign swing through Turkey and Southeast Asia make entreaties against curbing the number of Syrian migrants accepted into the United States, which some lawmakers have suggested in the aftermath of the Paris terror attacks.

He’s characterized such moves as reactionary and un-American, and promised to veto new legislation that would place new restrictions on refugees from Iraq and Syria looking to enter the United States.

“As long as I’m president we’re going to keep on stepping up and make sure America remains as it’s always been: a place where people, who in other parts of the world are subject to discrimination or violence, that they have in America a friend and a place of refuge,” he said Saturday.

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