Obama says immigrants ‘renew’ America

At naturalization ceremony, president lauds country’s rich history of immigration, warns against repeating mistakes

President Barack Obama on Tuesday said immigration is the United States’ oldest tradition and part of what makes the country exceptional, as he sought to draw a contrast with those who want to seal the borders from people seeking to escape hardships and persecution.

"We can never say it often or loudly enough. Immigrants and refugees revitalize and renew America," Obama said during a speech at the National Archives Museum, where immigrants from Iraq, Ethiopia, Uganda and 22 other nations were sworn in as U.S. citizens.

Obama is seeking this week to reassure the public about his strategy for fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) while also emphasizing that the U.S. is a welcoming country that promotes religious tolerance.

Obama implicitly drew a contrast with Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, who has called for walling off the Mexican border and temporarily banning Muslim immigrants. In his remarks, the president compared Syrian refugees attempting to escape nearly five years of civil war to Jewish refugees who came to American during World War II.

Speaking from a lectern placed in front of a display of the Constitution, Obama said the nation's first immigrants were the pilgrims and that eight signers of the Declaration of Independence were immigrants.

Obama described various ways that immigrants and refugees contribute to the fabric of America, saying immigrants are more likely to create jobs by starting their own businesses. He said many of the Fortune 500 companies were started by immigrants or the children of immigrants.

"Immigrants are the teachers who inspire our children and they're the doctors who keep us healthy," Obama said, noting that many also serve in the military, "often risking their lives for an America that isn't even their own yet."

He also said America has often not lived up to its values as a welcoming nation. He cited the country’s history of slavery, Japanese internment, and discrimination against immigrants from Ireland, China, and elsewhere as examples.

"We betrayed not only our fellow Americans, but our deepest values. We betrayed these values. It's happened before," Obama said. "And the biggest irony of course was that those who betrayed these values were themselves the children of immigrants. How quickly we forget."

Al Jazeera and Associated Press

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