WHITE HOUSE —
U.S. President Barack Obama welcomed 31 new citizens on Tuesday during a naturalization ceremony in which he urged Americans to speak out against “hatred and bigotry,” an apparent reference to controversial anti-Muslim and anti-immigration rhetoric by some prominent political figures.
"Immigration is our origin story. For more than two centuries, it has remained at the core of our national character," said Obama. "It is our oldest tradition. It makes us who we are."
Immigrants from 25 countries were sworn in Tuesday at the National Archives, which houses the nation’s founding documents, including the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights.
The president recalled the contribution of immigrants and periods in the nation’s history when he said America “succumbed to fear,” such as when the U.S. barred Chinese immigrants from entering the country in the late 1800's and the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II.
“On days like today we need to resolve to never repeat mistakes like that again,” Obama said. “We must resolve to always speak out against hatred and bigotry in all of its forms. - whether taunts against the child of an immigrant farmworker or threats against a Muslim shopkeeper.”
Participants in a naturalization ceremony raise their hands to take the "Oath of Allegiance" at an event attended by President Barack Obama at the National Archives in Washington, Dec. 15, 2015.
Trump, Cruz criticized
Obama has criticized remarks by Republican presidential candidates Donald Trump and Senator Ted Cruz, following terror attacks in Paris in November and in San Bernardino, California earlier this month.
Trump called for all Muslims to be barred from entering the country for a period of time and Cruz suggested that the United States resettle only Christian Syrian refugees. Additionally, more than two dozen U.S. governors have signaled they will try to block Syrian refugees from settling in their states.
Critics of the Obama administration’s plan to resettle immigrants from Syria and Iraq argue they pose a greater security risk because terrorists may try to enter the United States with them.
"In the Syrian seeking refuge today, we should see the Jewish refugee of World War II,” the president said. “We suggest that there is us and there is them, not remembering that we used to be them."
New US citizens
The newly sworn in citizens included immigrants from countries ranging from Brazil to Uganda to Iraq to the Philippines.
Also on Tuesday, the White House Task Force on New Americans released its one year progress report summarizing efforts to integrate immigrants and refugees into communities.
On Monday, key White House officials met with Muslim American leaders to discuss a rise in anti-Muslim rhetoric. The Obama administration also plans a series of meetings with religious leaders to discuss ways to combat discrimination and harassment and promote religious freedom and tolerance.