President Obama warned against the immigration mistakes of the past Tuesday, comparing Syrian refugees to the Jewish refugees who fled the Holocaust and the plight of Mexican immigrants to the discrimination faced by Catholic immigrants in the past.
“In the Mexican immigrant today, we see the Catholic immigrant of a century ago. In the Syrian seeking refuge today, we should see the Jewish refugee of World War II,” he said.
Speaking at the National Archives Obama was welcoming a group of 31 new Americans —naturalized earlier during that event — from more than 25 countries.
“In these new Americans we see our own American stories, our parents, our grandparents, our aunts, our uncles, our cousins, who packed up what they could and scraped together what they had — and they’re paperwork wasn’t always in order,” Obama said.
He pointed to the ongoing tension “between welcoming or rejecting the stranger” saying the issue is about the meaning of America. Obama called on Americans to celebrate immigrants and what they have done for the country.
“We can never say it often or loudly enough: Immigrants and refugees revitalize and renew America. Immigrants like you are more likely to start your own business. Many of the Fortune 500 companies in this country were founded by new immigrants or their children. Many of the tech start ups in Silicon Valley have at least one immigrant founder,” he said, going on to list other occupations, including military service, in which immigrants work.
According to Obama while Americans should be celebrating immigrants, often the country has failed to live up to its ideals.
“We should be strong enough to acknowledge, as painful as it might be, that we haven’t always lived up to our own ideals, we haven’t always lived up to these documents,” he said pointing to the display of he Constitution behind him.
“From the start Africans were brought here in chains against their will and then toiled under the whip. They also built America,” he said.
Obama continued, pointing to the “No Irish Need Apply” signs displayed in businesses a century ago, the skepticism with which people viewed Catholics, and the plight of Chinese immigrants who were prevented from coming to the U.S. for a period.
“During World War II German and Italian immigrants were detained and in one of the darkest chapters in our history, Japanese immigrants and even Japanese American citizens were forced from their homes and imprisoned in camps. We succumbed to fear. We betrayed not only our fellow Americans but also our deepest values. It’s happened before.”
“The biggest irony was of course is that those who betrayed these values were themselves the children of immigrants. How quickly we forget. One generation passes, two generations passes and suddenly we don’t remember where we came from. And we suggest that somehow there is us and them, not remembering we used to be them.”
Obama called for the country “to never make mistakes like that again.”
The countries from where the newly Congo, Iraq, Honduras, Ethiopia (2), Philippines, Canada (2), Nepal, Germany (2), Cameroon, Dominican Republica, Bulgaria, Jamaica (2), Brazil, Venezuela, Peru, Hong Kong, Brazil, Columbia, Uganda, San Lucia, Gabon, El Salvador, Romania, Romania, Ireland, Czech Republic, France.