WASHINGTON — President Obama spent part of his Fourth of July welcoming new U.S. citizens — including members of the U.S. armed forces — and stumping for changes to the nation's immigration system.
"This is one of my favorite events to do," Obama said Friday during a July Fourth naturalization ceremony at the White House. "And not just because we get to have a barbecue and watch fireworks later."
Obama watched as 25 new Americans took the oath of allegiance, a group that included veterans, reservists and spouses as well as 15 active duty members.
The ceremony is a moving reminder that "America is and always has been a nation of immigrants," he said.
It's also a reminder of problems and challenges along the nation's borders, he said. "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, and pass common sense immigration reform," Obama said.
The July 4 holiday fell the same week as news that the Republican-run House would not take up an immigration bill passed last year by the Democratic-controlled Senate.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said GOP caucus members could not trust Obama to enforce tighter security on the U.S.-Mexican border. "Until that changes," he said, "it is going to be difficult to make progress on this issue."
The Senate bill includes a pathway to citizenship for immigrants who are already in the United States illegally. Many House Republicans object to that provision, calling it amnesty for lawbreakers.
The White House naturalization ceremony featured 15 active duty service members serving in the U.S. Army, Marines, Air Force and National Guard, two veterans, one reservist and seven military spouses.
They hailed from 15 countries: Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany, Ghana, Guatemala, Guyana, Jamaica, Nigeria, Panama, the Philippines, South Korea, Trinidad and Tobago, and Ukraine.
"It is an honor to join everyone here, for the first time, in calling you our fellow Americans," Obama said.
The ceremony also honored Jose Andres, the celebrity chef who received an Outstanding American by Choice award from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
The president also paid tribute to the military during a Fourth of July radio address, as he saluted the ideals that inspired the American patriots who declared their independence from Great Britain in 1776.
"They were united by a belief in a simple truth — that we are all created equal; that we are all endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights; and that among these rights are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," Obama said. "Over the years, that belief has sustained us through war and depression, peace and prosperity."
On Friday night, the president and first lady Michelle Obama host a White House barbecue and concert for military service members, staffers and their spouses, including those who participated in the naturalization ceremony. They will watch the Washington, D.C., fireworks display from the South Lawn.
In welcoming the 25 new citizens to the United States, Obama told them they understand the "timeless belief that from many we are one."