Celebrating the ethnic diversity of America, President Barack Obama said more than two dozen foreign-born service members who became U.S. citizens at the White House on the Fourth of July are vivid reminders that welcoming immigrants "is central to our way of life."
He pleaded anew for new immigration policies, saying the vast range of backgrounds and experiences that has made America a melting pot for more than 200 years also makes the country stronger. He argued that the system must be retooled for the U.S. to remain the greatest nation on earth.
"The basic idea of welcoming immigrants to our shores is central to our way of life. It is in our DNA," Mr. Obama said after the 25 service members representing 15 countries raised their right hands and pledged allegiance to the United States.
"From all these different strands, we make something new here in America. And that's why, if we want to keep attracting the best and brightest from beyond our borders, we're going to have to fix our immigration system, which is broken," he said. "Pass common-sense immigration reform."
The immigration issue is earning renewed attention because of the influx to the U.S. of tens of thousands of unaccompanied children from Central America. Under U.S. law, they must be returned to their home countries, angering immigration advocates who already take issue with Mr. Obama's enforcement of deportations. They want Mr. Obama to allow the children to stay.
At the same time, the President blames House Republicans for delaying action on legislation covering the millions already living in the U.S. illegally. A comprehensive measure the Senate passed last summer has been blocked by House leaders who also have done little to advance their own immigration proposals.
Mr. Obama announced earlier this week that, as a result of inaction on Capitol Hill, he will pursue non-legislative ways he can adjust U.S. immigration policy on his own. He scheduled a trip to Texas next week, mostly to raise money for Democratic candidates, but plans not to visit the border.
"I'm going to keep doing everything I can to keep making our immigration system smarter and more efficient," Mr. Obama said Friday.
Demonstrators on both sides of the immigration debate gathered Friday outside a U.S. Border Patrol station in Southern California where the agency was foiled earlier this week in an attempt to bus in and process some of the immigrants who have flooded the Texas border with Mexico.
The crowd in Murrieta, Calif., numbered about 120 early in the day – about a third opposing illegal immigration and two thirds supporting immigrants. Shouting matches erupted but there was no violence.
Earlier this week a crowd of protesters in the city blocked buses carrying women and children migrants who were flown in from overwhelmed Texas facilities to a processing centre about 90 kilometres north of downtown San Diego. The Border Patrol had to take the migrants elsewhere.
Thousands of children and families have arrived on the Texas border in recent months fleeing violence, murders and extortion from criminal gangs in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. Since October, more than 52,000 unaccompanied children have been detained.
The crunch on the border in Texas' Rio Grande Valley prompted U.S. authorities to fly immigrant families to other Texas cities and to Southern California for processing.
The Border Patrol is coping with excess capacity across the Southwest, and cities' responses to the arriving immigrants have ranged from welcoming to indifferent.