Obama challenged Congress to take up debate on immigration bill next month so he can sign ASAP
WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama challenged Congress Monday to “finish the job” of finalizing legislation aimed at overhauling the nation’s immigration system.
“We’ve known for years that our immigration system is broken,” the president said at a citizenship ceremony at the White House. “After avoiding the problem for years, the time has come to fix it once and for all.”
The president spoke at a ceremony for 28 people from more than two dozen countries, including Afghanistan, China and Mexico. Thirteen of the new citizens are active duty service members in the U.S. military. The oath of allegiance was administered by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.
While Obama has hosted citizenship ceremonies in previous years, Monday’s event was laced with politics, given the ongoing debate over immigration reform on Capitol Hill. A bipartisan group of eight senators is close to finishing draft work on a bill that would dramatically reshape the U.S. immigration and employment landscape, putting 11 million illegal immigrants on a path to citizenship. The measure also would allow tens of thousands of new high- and low-skilled workers into the country.
The president applauded the congressional effort so far, but pressed lawmakers to wrap up their discussions quickly.
Immigration shot to the forefront of Obama’s domestic agenda following the November election. Hispanics made up 10 percent of the electorate and overwhelmingly backed Obama, in part because of the tough stance on immigration that Republicans took during the campaign.
The election results spurred Republicans to tackle immigration reform for the first time since 2007 in an effort to increase the party’s appeal to Hispanics and keep the GOP competitive in national elections.
Obama touted the benefits of immigration at Monday’s ceremony, saying it keeps the U.S. vibrant and prosperous.
“It is part of what makes this such a dynamic country,” he said at the event in the White House East Room.
Among those being sworn in as a new citizen was Nikita Kirichenko, who came to the U.S. from Ukraine at age 11 and later joined the Air Force. The president also singled out Kingsley Elebo, who pursued a master’s degree in information technology after coming to the U.S. from Nigeria at age 35. Elebo is now studying for his doctorate.
The president then read a quote from Elebo about what it means to become a citizen.
“What Kingsley said is, ‘What makes this country great is that if you’re a citizen you’re part of something bigger than yourself’,” Obama said.
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