WASHINGTON – President Bush presided over a citizenship ceremony on Monday for three soldiers injured in Iraq, calling them "men who knew the cost of freedom and were willing to pay that cost so others could live free."
Bush also used his visit to the Walter Reed Army Medical Center to promote his stalled proposal for overhauling the nation's immigration laws. He urged Congress to break the current stalemate and pass legislation that "must be comprehensive."
Santos, who stood on crutches while the other two were standing on their own at the ceremony, was injured last Sept. 6 when the convoy in which he was riding was bombed. Lopez was injured when his Humvee was hit by a roadside bomb south of Baghdad last Jan. 6. Leal-Cardenas was injured by a roadside bomb last Dec. 6 while returning to his base from a mission just south of Baghdad.
Bush called it, "a joyful day for these men, a joyful day for me to be here with them...It's a privilege to be their commander in chief."
"This isn't going to be the first time these men have made such a promise. They took a similar oath when they became soldiers of the United States Army. And their presence here bears witness that they kept their word so that others might be free," Bush said.
"As our nation debates the future of our immigration policies, we must remember the contribution of these good men and all who dream of contributing to this country's future," Bush said.
After the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, Bush signed an executive order making foreign-born members of the U.S. military immediately eligible for U.S. citizenship when they serve on active duty.
"It made sense to me: If somebody's willing to risk their lives for our country, they ought to be full participants in our country," Bush said. He noted that more than 33,000 non-U.S. citizens currently serve in the military.
Trying to break the deadlock on immigration legislation, Bush said securing the nation's borders must be the first goal. After that, he said, it must offer a temporary worker program, tougher penalties for employers who hire undocumented workers, resolve the status of the million of illegal workers now in the country while honoring "the great American tradition of the melting pot."
The Senate earlier in the year passed a bipartisan immigration bill offering a chance at citizenship for millions of illegal immigrants and generally delivering on the goals outlined by Bush.
But the House, which in 2005 passed a far-more-restrictive bill that would make it a felony to enter the United States illegally, is holding a series of time-consuming hearings on the subject, hearings that have been criticized as a political maneuver to delay the legislation and help Republican candidates in an election year.