Obama Says Welcoming Immigrants at Core of National Character

  • President addresses fear of newcomers at naturalization event
  • White House asks cities, states to help immigrants assimilate

President Barack Obama used a ceremony for new U.S. citizens to stress the nation’s history of welcoming immigrants, just hours before a debate between Republican presidential candidates who want restrictions on newcomers in response to the threat of terrorism.

Without directly mentioning political arguments over whether to deport people in the country illegally or clamp down on admitting Middle East refugees, Obama made reference to instances in the nation’s past when immigrants were shunned over nationality or religion, including the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II.

“We succumbed to fear,” he said Tuesday at the National Archives in Washington. “We betrayed not only our fellow Americans, but our deepest values.”

“We need to resolve never to repeat mistakes like that again,” he said.

Terrorist attacks in California and France have raised fears that the extremist group Islamic State might direct or inspire more carnage in the U.S. Businessman Donald Trump, who is leading the field of Republican presidential candidates, has called for the U.S. to close its borders to new Muslim immigrants. He’s also proposed the deportation of undocumented immigrants, and building a wall between the U.S. and Mexico to keep would-be immigrants from crossing the southern U.S. border.

Refugee Resistance

Meanwhile, governors of more than 30 states, including Texas, Alabama, Arizona and Illinois, oppose accepting Syrian refugees who are among the more than four million people displaced by civil war in their country. Most Republicans in Congress and in the presidential race have backed the governors.

“What kind of country do we want to be? It’s about the capacity of each generation to honor the creed of our founding: e pluribus unum. That out of many, we are one,” Obama said. “In the Syrian seeking refuge today, we should see the Jewish refugee of World War II.”

He said the embrace of newcomers is “at the core of our national character.”

Obama plans to raise the number of Syrian refugees accepted in the U.S. to 10,000 this year and next. A White House task force, created in November 2014 before a surge of Syrian refugees, released a report on Tuesday urging local governments to help assimilate immigrants and suggesting lowered barriers to citizenship, including providing more information online and allowing naturalization fees to be charged to a credit card.

Obama spoke at a naturalization ceremony for recent immigrants from more than 25 countries, including Canada, Congo and Germany, who took the oath of citizenship before his remarks.

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