“We need to do a better job welcoming them,” the president continued. “We’ve known for years that our immigration system is broken. . . . After avoiding the problem for years, the time has come to fix it once and for all.”
Obama has participated in a naturalization ceremony at the White House for each of the past four years, but Monday’s event took on heightened symbolism. He read a list of countries that the immigrants hailed from — including Afghanistan, Germany, Mexico, Nigeria and Peru — and some wore their U.S. military uniforms.
Obama praised bipartisan efforts in the Senate and House to develop legislation and said he expects a bill to be introduced next month.
A group of eight senators — four Republicans and four Democrats — has said it hopes to unveil a bill after the Senate returns from a two-week Easter break on April 8, although labor and business leaders remain at loggerheads over a proposed guest worker program.
The effort — which is widely expected to serve as the template for a potential deal between Congress and the White House — will include a 13-year path to citizenship for the nation’s 11 million illegal immigrants, a large increase in visas for high-tech workers, the guest worker program for low-wage foreigners and the elimination of some categories of visas for extended family members, according to people familiar with the negotiations.
The legislation will also call for increased border control and workplace security measures.
“Everyone pretty much knows what’s broken. Everyone knows how to fix it,” Obama said. “We’ve just got, at this point, to work up the political courage to do what’s required to be done.”
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), a vocal opponent of a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, said in an interview with the Dallas Morning News that Obama was baiting Republicans by insisting they vote on legislation that includes such a provision. Instead of expecting the bill will pass, Cruz suggested, Obama is hoping to use the measure as a wedge issue against the GOP in the 2014 midterm elections. Latino voters overwhelmingly supported Obama last year.
“There’s no evidence to support those claims,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Monday.
In the House, Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) has said a bipartisan group has wrapped up work on a comprehensive immigration bill that could be introduced in the next few weeks.
Meanwhile, Organizing for America, an offshoot of Obama’s former campaign apparatus, and the AFL-CIO have announced immigration events to be held across the country.
“Citizenship is more than a process,” said Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, a group that backs a citizenship path. “It speaks to who we are as a nation.”
In his remarks, Obama shared some of the new citizens’ personal stories, noting that one man from Ukraine had come to the United States when he was 11 and joined the Air Force “to give back to the country.” A man from Nigeria, who is pursuing a doctorate in information technology, wants to be a professor, the president said.
“As we look out across this room, we are reminded what makes somebody American is not just their bloodlines, not just an accident of birth,” Obama said. “It’s a fidelity to our founding principles, a faith in an idea that anyone, anywhere, can write the next great chapter in this American story.”
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