On the 224th anniversary of the ratification of the Bill of Rights, President Obama attended a naturalization ceremony to subtly denounce controversial proposals on immigration dominating the presidential campaign.
“You don’t look alike,” Obama observed at a ceremony at the National Archives, where 31 candidates for naturalization from 25 different countries became U.S. citizens. “You don’t worship the same way, but here, surrounded by the very documents whose values bind us together as one people, you’ve raised your hand and sworn a sacred oath.”
“I’m proud to be among the first to greet you as ‘my fellow Americans,’” Obama continued. “Now you have to help us write the next great chapter in America’s story.”
Without calling out Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump by name or directly raising his controversial proposal to temporarily ban Muslims from entering the United States, Obama identified a parallel between Syrian refugees and Jewish fleeing Europe during World War II.
“In these new Americans, we see our own American stories -- our parents, our grandparents, our aunts, our uncles, our cousins who packed up what they could and scraped together what they had,” he said. “They set out for a place that was more than just a piece of land, but an idea.”
The newly-minted citizens included a Fulbright scholar from the Congo and a refugee from Iraq. The president stressed that unless individuals have Native American heritage, “all of our families come from someplace else.”
“We can never say often or loudly enough: immigrants and refugees revitalize and renew America,” Obama said, charging that the “biggest irony” in the current debate over Syrian refugees is that many critics are first or second-generation immigrants themselves.
“How quickly we forget,” he said. “Suddenly we don’t remember where we came from.”
When White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest was asked if Obama’s attendance at the event was a direct response to Trump’s proposal, Earnest noted that the president's comments "stand in stark contrast to the rhetoric and divisiveness that will most sure be on display on the debate stage tonight in Las Vegas."
"But the things that the president talked about today are also firmly in line with the kind of vision for the country that the president has long given voice to," Earnest added. "It's not as if the president went out of his way to describe these values. These are the kinds of things the president has long fought for."