Facing a crisis of illegal immigration on the Mexican border, President Obama welcomed 25 new U.S. citizens at the White House Friday and pledged to take steps “to make our immigration system smarter and more efficient.”
“If we want to keep attracting the best and the brightest from beyond our shores, we’re going to have fix our immigration system, which is broken, and pass common-sense immigration reform,” Mr. Obama said at an Independence Day naturalization ceremony for members of the U.S. armed forces and their spouses.
The ceremony took place as the Obama administration struggles to deal with a surge of tens of thousands of unaccompanied children from Central America who, under U.S. law, must be sent back to their home countries. Advocates of overhauling U.S. immigration policy want Mr. Obama to allow the children to stay.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry said Thursday there is a crisis on the Mexican border.
“The border between the U.S. and Mexico is less secure than at any point in the recent past,” Mr. Perry testified to the House Homeland Security Committee, holding a field hearing in McAllen, Texas. “Secure this border, Mr. President. Finally, address this issue and secure this border.”
Mr. Obama said on Friday that immigration is central to America’s identity.
“The basic idea of welcoming immigrants to our shores is central to our way of life,” he said. “It is in our DNA. We believe our diversity, our differences, when joined together by a common set of ideals, makes us stronger, makes us more creative, makes us different.”
He told the new citizens: “We shouldn’t be making it harder for the best and the brightest to come here and create jobs here and grow our economy here. We should be making it easier. That’s why I’m going to keep doing everything I can do to make our immigration system smarter and more efficient, so hardworking men and women like all of you have the opportunity to join the American family and to serve our great nation, so we can be stronger and more prosperous and more whole together.”
Across the country this week, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services said about 9,000 new U.S. citizens are taking the oath of allegiance during more than 100 naturalization ceremonies.
Critics of the administration’s immigration policies called on Independence Day for a greater commitment to enforcing the laws and border security.
“On this July Fourth, it is time to focus squarely on the needs of the American people who have given their blood and sweat to deliver us this magnificent Republic,” Sen. Jeff Sessions, Alabama Republican, wrote in an op-ed in the National Review. “For instance: Stop promoting amnesty. Instead, send a clear message to the world: If you attempt to come here unlawfully, you will be sent home.”
He added, “And send a message to our neighbors in Latin America: If you do not accept repatriation of your citizens who entered unlawfully, you will not be provided any more legal-immigrant visas.”
It was the fifth naturalization ceremony that Mr. Obama has hosted at the White House. The group of 25 new American citizens included 15 active-duty service members from the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines, along with two veterans, one reservist and seven spouses, the White House said. They came from a total of 15 countries.
Mr. Obama blames House Republicans for blocking action on comprehensive immigration reform that he said will address enforcement problems. House leaders announced last week they would not take up a measure passed by the Senate, which would grant a pathway to citizenship for some 11 million illegal immigrants.
Mr. Obama has responded to the impasse by saying that he will pursue executive action to change U.S. immigration policy without waiting for Congress.