WASHINGTON — President Obama described immigration on Tuesday as the nation's oldest tradition and part of what makes the country exceptional, as he sought to draw a contrast with those who would seal the borders to people seeking to escape hardships or persecution.
"We can never say it often or loudly enough: Immigrants and refugees revitalize and renew America," Obama said.
Obama has been trying 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.
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.
Obama described various ways that immigrants and refugees contribute to the fabric of America, saying they are more likely to create jobs by starting their own businesses. He said many of the Fortune 500 companies were started by immigrants or the children of immigrants.
"Immigrants are the teachers who inspire our children and they're the doctors who keep us healthy," Obama said, adding that many also serve in the military, "often risking their lives for an America that isn't even their own yet."
Obama also said the United States has often not lived up to its values as a welcoming nation. He recited the history of slaves and the treatment of immigrants from Ireland, China and elsewhere as examples. In one of the darkest chapters of the nation's history, he said Japanese immigrants and even Japanese-American citizens were forced into internment camps during World War II.
"We betrayed not only our fellow Americans, but our deepest values. We betrayed these values. It's happened before," Obama said. "And the biggest irony of course was that those who betrayed these values were themselves the children of immigrants. How quickly we forget."
Associated Press writer Darlene Superville contributed to this report.