President Barack Obama personally welcomed more than two dozen Americans during a special naturalization ceremony Tuesday at the National Archives Museum in Washington, D.C.
“You don’t look alike, you don’t worship the same way, but here, surrounded by the very documents whose values bind us together as one people, you've raised your hand and sworn a sacred oath,” the president told 31 people representing 25 countries.
“I’m so proud to be among the first to greet you as my fellow Americans,” he added.
During his remarks, Obama touted that the United States is unique in its immigrant history – the country does not simply welcome new immigrants, he said, “we are born of immigrants.”
“That is who we are, immigration is our origin story, and for more than two centuries it’s remained at the core of our national character, oldest tradition. It’s who we are. It’s part of what makes us exceptional.”
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He added: “We can never say it often or loudly enough. Immigrants and refugees revitalize and renew America.”
Obama implicitly drew a contrast with Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, who has campaigned on a plan to wall off the Mexican border and recently called for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the United States. Many members of Congress have voiced worries that allowing more Syrian refugees into the country will make the nation more susceptible to a terrorist attack.
Obama spoke at the National Archives Museum, where immigrants from Iraq, Ethiopia, Uganda and 22 other nations were sworn in as U.S. citizens. He spoke from a lectern placed in front of the display of the Constitution. He said the nation's first refugees were the pilgrims and that eight signers of the Declaration of Independence were immigrants.
Probably the most high-profile person taking the citizenship oath during the ceremony was Peruvian-born DREAMer Lorella Praeli, who is the Latino Outreach Director for the Hillary Clinton campaign.
The outspoken immigration activist came to the U.S. when she was 10 so that she could receive better access to prosthetic care after she lost her right leg in a car accident at age 2. She only found out about her undocumented status when she tried to apply for college.
Clinton dedicated her a few words during a campaign event Monday night at the National Immigrant Integration Conference in Brooklyn.
"She decided she didn't want to live in fear or secrecy, like so many undocumented immigrants feel they must do. She was convinced that this was her country, and that she had something special to offer," Clinton said.
She went on to graduate summa cum laude with a degree in political science and sociology from Quinnipiac University.
While Praeli, who is married to an American citizen, received her permanent residency status – “green card” – in 2012, she still considers herself a DREAMer.
Ahead of the ceremony, she tweeted: “My dream and lucha is for you and 11 million undocumented Americans to take the oath and become U.S. citizens.”
— Lorella Praeli (@lorellapraeli) December 15, 2015
Obama is seeking this week to reassure the public about his strategy for stopping the Islamic State group while also emphasizing that the United States is a welcoming country that promotes religious tolerance.
He noted that America has often not lived up to its values as a welcoming nation. He mentioned the history of slaves and immigrants from Ireland, China and elsewhere as examples.
"One generation passes, two generations passes, and suddenly we don't remember where we came from," Obama said. On days like today, we need to resolve never to repeat mistakes like this again. We must speak out against hatred, bigotry — whether it taunts against farmworker or threats against Muslim shopkeeper. We are Americans.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.