POLITICS

Obama Responds To Anti-Immigrant Sentiment In Moving Speech To New Citizens

He reminded immigration opponents that their families were once immigrants, too.

WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama didn't utter the name "Donald Trump" during a speech on Tuesday at a naturalization ceremony, or directly criticize Congress for its efforts to stall Syrian refugee resettlement.

He didn't need to. His rebuke of nativism, anti-immigrant sentiment and fear-mongering during the 20-minute speech was clear enough: a plea for Americans to remember poor treatment toward immigrants in the past and to not repeat it.

After praising the country's values, Obama listed some of the times they've been betrayed, including slavery, discrimination against Catholics and Japanese internment during World War II, which he called "one of the darkest chapters in our history."

"We succumbed to fear," the president said in the speech at the National Archives. "We betrayed not only our fellow Americans but our deepest values."

"The biggest irony," he added, "was that those who betrayed these values were themselves the children of immigrants."

"How quickly we forget. One generation passes, two [generations pass] and suddenly we don't remember where we came from," he said. "And we somehow suggest that there is 'us' and there is 'them,' not remembering we used to be 'them.' On days like today, we need to resolve never to repeat mistakes like that again."

The U.S. is hearing a lot of the "'us' versus 'them'" arguments lately. Some politicians have floated the idea of internment camps for Muslims in the U.S. Trump, the Republican presidential frontrunner, said the U.S. should temporarily ban Muslims from entering the country. He and other GOP members have called for more deportations, and criticized the president for being too slow to expel Central American minors apprehended along the border. The House of Representatives easily passed a bill to make it harder for the U.S. to admit Syrian and Iraqi refugees.

Obama's remarks didn't get the same level of publicity. None of the cable news networks, which have repeatedly publicized those attacks on refugees and immigrants, carried the remarks live. (That's not to say they weren't covering news; most were focusing on a threat that shut down schools in Los Angeles.)

If people did watch, though, they saw a president urging the U.S. public to look at immigration through the lens of history. "In the Mexican immigrant today, we see the Catholic immigrant of a century ago," he said. "In the Syrian seeking refuge today, we should see the Jewish refugee of World War II."

That includes standing up for Muslims who may be discriminated against, Obama said.

"We are Americans," he said. "Standing up for each other is what the values enshrined in the documents in this room compels us to do. Especially when it's hard. Especially when it's not convenient. That's when it counts. That's when it matters. Not when things are easy, but when things are hard."

 
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