WASHINGTON — Celebrating the ethnic diversity of America, President Obama said more than two dozen foreign-born service members who became U.S. citizens at the White House on Friday are vivid reminders that welcoming immigrants “is central to our way of life.”
He pleaded anew for new immigration policies, saying the vast range of backgrounds and experiences that has made America a melting pot for more than 200 years also makes the country stronger. He argued that the system must be retooled for the U.S. to remain the greatest nation.
“The basic idea of welcoming immigrants to our shores is central to our way of life, it is in our DNA,” Obama said after the 25 service members representing 15 countries raised their right hands and pledged allegiance to the United States.
“From all these different strands, we make something new here in America. And that’s why, if we want to keep attracting the best and brightest from beyond our borders, we’re going to have to fix our immigration system, which is broken,” he said. “Pass common-sense immigration reform.
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The immigration issue is earning renewed attention because of the influx to the U.S. of tens of thousands of unaccompanied children from Central America.
Obama blames House Republicans for delaying action on legislation covering the millions already living in the U.S. illegally. A comprehensive measure the Senate passed last summer has been blocked by House leaders, who have done little to advance their own immigration proposals.
Obama said earlier that, as a result of inaction on Capitol Hill, he will pursue nonlegislative ways he can adjust U.S. immigration policy on his own. He scheduled a trip to Texas next week, mostly to raise money for Democratic candidates, but doesn’t plan to visit the border.
“I’m going to keep doing everything I can to keep making our immigration system smarter and more efficient,” he said Friday.
Later Friday, Obama and his wife, Michelle, welcomed hundreds of service members and their families, including the new citizens, to a barbecue on the South Lawn sponsored by the USO, a nonprofit organization that provides services and entertainment to U.S. troops and their families.
Obama said that since the nation’s founding 238 years ago, the U.S. has become the “greatest democratic, economic and military force the world has ever known” and a beacon for others looking on from beyond its borders.
“Immigrants from around the world dream of coming to our shores,” he said. “Young people aspire to study at our universities, other nations look to us for support (and) leadership in times of disaster and conflict and uncertainty.
“And when the world looks to America so often they look to all of you, the men and women of our Armed Forces,” Obama said.
The president explained that he had other reasons to celebrate Friday.
“This is always a special day for us because this is Malia’s birthday,” he told guests. His older daughter turned 16.