Senator Ted Cruz called for law enforcement agents to "patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods" in the United States in response to Tuesday's terror attacks in Brussels, which killed at least 34 people.
Cruz, who is currently running for the Republican presidential nomination, released a statement on Tuesday saying that the country needs "to empower law enforcement to patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods before they become radicalized."
The call came just hours after the Islamic State took credit for the Brussels attacks.
Cruz also called for the US to "immediately halt the flow of refugees from countries with a significant al Qaida or ISIS presence," a measure that he has been pushing in Congress for months, which stops short of Republican frontrunner Donald Trump's call to temporarily halt immigration by any individuals of the Islamic faith.
And Cruz said that the US needs to increase security at the southern border as well, to prevent terrorists infiltrating the country. The attacks in Brussels came from "a toxic mix of migrants who have been infiltrated by terrorists and isolated, radical Muslim neighborhoods," Cruz said in the statement.
Cruz added that Western countries have spent years denying the real threat of radical Islam "out of a combination of political correctness and fear." It is time to end this political correctness, Cruz said, in order to prevent future terror attacks.
Cruz's comments about securing and patrolling Muslim neighborhoods quickly provoked backlash from civil rights groups who argued that such measures violate the constitutional rights of citizens, which prevent discrimination based on race or religion.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the largest Muslim civil rights organization in the country, slammed Cruz's comments as encouraging a "fascist-like treatment of American Muslims" and called on him to issue a public apology.
"[Cruz's statement] is not only unconstitutional, it is unbefitting anyone seeking our nation's highest office and indicates that he lacks the temperament necessary for any president," CAIR said in a statement.
This is hardly CAIR's first fight with Cruz. The Texas senator called out the group's alleged ties to the Muslim Brotherhood in legislation last year designating the latter as a terrorist organization (that bill never made it to the Senate floor). And last week, CAIR criticized the Republican candidate for naming an "Islamaphobe" to his national security team.
But one of Cruz's rivals for the Republican presidential nomination also took issue with his statement. Ohio Governor John Kasich was quick to criticize Cruz's remarks. Speaking to reporters in Minneapolis on Tuesday, Kasich cautioned against demonizing an entire religion.
"We are not at war with Islam; we're at war with radical Islam," Kasich said.
"Frankly, for those who want to preserve Islam as a religion that is not at war with the West — we alienate them, how are we supposed to ever get the information we need?" Kasich added.
Cruz's spokesperson Alice Stewart issued a follow-up statement clarifying his earlier remarks but did not back down on the proposal to crack down on Muslim neighborhoods.
If the US wants to prevent terror attacks like the one in Brussels, Stewart said, the county is "going to require an empowered, visible law enforcement presence that will both identify problem spots and partner with non-radical Americans who want to protect their homes."
The police should have every tool available to them in order to identify radical Islamist cells and take action against them, Stewart added.
But the follow-up statement from Cruz's campaign did not clarify the constitutional concerns that his initial comments raised.
Follow Olivia Becker on Twitter: @obecker928