During a naturalization ceremony for U.S. military members and their spouses at the White House on Friday, President Obama marked the July 4 holiday with a new call for "common-sense immigration reform," saying America's "broken" immigration system must be fixed if we hope to continue drawing the "best and brightest" to our shores.
"America is and always has been a nation of immigrants," the president said. "We believe our diversity, our differences when joined together by common set of ideals, makes us stronger, makes us more creative, makes us different. From all these different strands, we make something new in America."
All told, 15 active-duty soldiers, two veterans, one reservist, and seven military spouses, representing 15 different countries of origin, were recognized as citizens at the event, the fifth of its kind at the White House under Mr. Obama.
"Each of you has traveled a long journey to this moment," the president told the newly-minted citizens. "Yet somehow, either because your parents brought you here as children or because you made the choice yourselves as adults, you ended up here, in America. And then many of you did something extraordinary - you signed up to serve in the United States military. You answered the call to fight and potentially give up your life for a country you didn't fully belong to yet."
The president said he would do his part to streamline the immigration system through administrative adjustments, but there are limits to what he can accomplish in the absence of congressional action.
A bipartisan coalition of senators passed a reform bill last June that would extend an earned path to citizenship to some undocumented immigrants, throw considerably more security resources at the border, and strengthen domestic enforcement of immigration laws.
House Republican leaders refused to take up the Senate bill, and though some smaller bills targeting border security and visas for skilled workers have passed through the House Judiciary Committee, nothing has reached the House floor.
GOP leaders tried earlier this year to rally their caucus around a bill that would confer citizenship on those who have served in the military, but even that proved too heavy a lift for the fractious Republican conference. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., even lost his seat to a conservative challenger in a stunning primary upset last month that some blamed on his support for the measure.
At the ceremony, D.C.-based chef Jose Andres was also recognized as an "Outstanding American by Choice" for his professional accomplishments and cultural contributions. Andres owns a number of restaurants nationwide, and he's an active philanthropist in the Washington metro area.
The citizenship ceremony for military members also came at a dynamic moment for the U.S. armed forces. The withdrawal from Afghanistan by the end of this year is slated to bring America's 13-year war in that country to a close. And in Iraq, the country that America soldiers left in 2011, mounting sectarian violence has drawn the U.S. military back into the conflict, though not in a combat role.
The president also offered a "special thanks" in his weekly address on Friday "to the men and women of our armed forces and the families who serve with them -- especially those service members who spent this most American of holidays serving your country far from home."
"You keep us safe, and you keep the United States of America a shining beacon of hope for the world," he said. "And for that, you and your families deserve not only the appreciation of a grateful nation, but our enduring commitment to serve you as well as you've served us."
In the weekly Republican address, Rep. Steve Womack, R-Ark., also observed the July 4 holiday, extending his prayers "to the men and women sacrificing to keep us safe."
He also took the opportunity to press the administration to "capitalize on America's energy renaissance" by approving the Keystone XL oil pipeline. That project, which has been in limbo for years, would bring crude oil from Canadian tar sands to refineries along the U.S. Gulf Coast.