WASHINGTON (AP) – President Barack Obama plans to highlight a positive side of the immigration debate by presiding over an Independence Day citizenship ceremony for service members who signed up to defend the U.S. even though they weren’t American citizens.
A total of 25 members of the Armed Forces will spend the Fourth of July as American citizens after the deputy secretary for homeland security delivers the oath of allegiance at a White House ceremony on Friday.
The group includes 15 active-duty service members from the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines, along with two veterans, one reservist and seven spouses, the White House said. They represent 15 countries.
The politically divisive immigration issue is earning renewed attention after the influx of tens of thousands of unaccompanied children from Central America who, under U.S. law, must be sent back across the border to their home countries. That has upset advocates of overhauling U.S. immigration policy who want Obama to allow the children to stay.
At the same time, Obama blames House Republicans for delaying action on an immigration overhaul. A comprehensive measure the Senate passed last year has been blocked by House leaders who also have done little to advance legislative proposals of their own.
Obama announced earlier this week that, as a result of lawmakers’ inaction, he will pursue non-legislative ways that he can adjust U.S. immigration policy without waiting for Congress to act.
Obama and his wife, Michelle, spend the Fourth of July with service members they invite to the White House for an all-American barbecue on the South Lawn and choice seating for the fireworks on the National Mall. Obama said some of the service members who will be at the White House on Friday are unique.
“They signed up to serve, to sacrifice, potentially to give their lives for the security of this country even though they weren’t yet Americans. That’s how much they love this country,” Obama said in announcing the ceremony earlier this week. “They were prepared to fight and die for an America they did not yet fully belong to. I think they’ve earned their stripes in more ways than one.”
He said it is worth celebrating that the U.S. is “a nation of immigrants.”
“We won this country’s freedom together. We built this country together. We defended this country together,” he said. “It makes us special. It makes us strong. It makes us Americans. That’s worth celebrating. And that’s what I want not just House Republicans, but all of us, as Americans to remember.”
Obama participated in naturalization ceremonies at the White House in 2009, 2010, 2012 and last year.
Friday’s ceremony will also recognize internationally known celebrity chef Jose Andres for outstanding achievements by a naturalized U.S. citizen. Andres, who is 44 and was born in Spain, became a citizen last November and also will mark his first July Fourth as a citizen.
Andres serves on the boards of the DC Central Kitchen and the L.A. Kitchen, in addition to international philanthropic work carried out through his World Central Kitchen. Andres runs restaurants in California, Nevada, Florida, Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C. He has prepared meals for White House and other Obama administration events, and Obama and the first lady have gone out to dinner at some of his Andres’ restaurants in Washington. Andres also contributed financially to both of Obama’s presidential campaigns.
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Copyright 2014 The Associated Press.