Biden's Cinco De Mayo Message Touts the Undocumented as 'Americans'

(Susan Walsh/AP Photo)

Vice President Joe Biden marked Cinco de Mayo, traditionally a celebration of Mexican culture, with an impassioned call for immigration overhaul.

"We don't have to redouble our efforts. We have to redouble our demand. We have to redouble our demand that the House of Representatives takes up legislation that's going to match the strong bill that came out of the United States Senate," the VP said, referring to the upper chamber's Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act, which passed in the Senate with bipartisan support in June 2013.

"It's time for John - he's a good man, John Boehner - to stand up," Biden said of the GOP House speaker. "And other Republicans to stand up. Not for us to stand. We've already stood up. We've stood up, we've been counted.

"But it's time for him to stand up, stand up and not let the minority - I think it's a minority - of the Republican party in the House keep us from moving to a vote to change the circumstances for millions and millions of lives." Biden told a crowd of about 100 gathered at his home at the Naval Observatory.

Guests - which included the U.S. ambassador to Mexico, Anthony Wayne, as well as several Hispanic lawmakers - feasted on chorizo and empanadas to the strains of a five-piece Mariachi band.

The vice president also reiterated his controversial stance that undocumented immigrants were " already Americans."

"I know I was criticized for saying, a couple months ago in Florida, that these 11 million folks in the shadows are already Americans. And I got pretty roundly criticized for that. But you know, they are Americans. They may not be citizens, but they are Americans," Biden said.

"The definition of Teddy Roosevelt, who said, 'Americanism is not a question of birthplace or creed, or line of descent, it's a question of principles, idealism and character.' And I would argue that those 11 million folks who are here, breaking their neck, working hard, they are Americans," he added.

Reflecting on his own encounters with Hispanic people hoping to one day cross the border, Biden described watching bishops deliver communion to Mexicans who stretched their hands through the bars on the fence to receive the bread, calling the experience, "one of the most wrenching and reassuring things I have seen in this debate."

Biden compared U.S. immigrants' "courage and optimism" to the valor shown by Mexican troops during the Battle of Puebla, a May 5, 1862, Mexican victory during French intervention.

"On Cinco de Mayo, it took a hell of a lot of courage to say, 'I'm taking on the French, man,'" Biden said as the audience laughed. "No, I'm serious!"