Obama: We Should See Syrian Refugees Like the Jewish Refugees of World War II

Tuesday at the U.S. National Archives in Washington D.C. at a naturalization ceremony, President Barack Obama likened today’s Syrian refugees to the Jewish refugees of World War II.

Remarks as follows:

We haven’t always lived up to our ideals. We haven’t always lived up to these documents. From the start, Africans were brought here in chains against their will, and then toiled under the whip. They also built America. A century ago, New York City shops displayed those signs, “No Irish need apply.” Catholics were targeted. Their loyalty questioned. So much so that as recently as the 1950s and ’60s, and JFK ran, he had to convince people that his allegiance wasn’t primarily to the pope. Chinese immigrants faced persecution and vicious stereotypes and were for a time even banned from entering America. During World War II, German and Italian residents 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 our deepest values. We betrayed these documents. It’s happened before. And the biggest irony of course was that those who betrayed these values were themselves the children of immigrants. How quickly we forget. One generation passes, two generation passes, and suddenly we don’t remember where we came from. We suggest that somehow 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.

We must resolve to always speak out against hatred and bigotry in all of its forms, whether taunts against the child of an immigrant farm worker, or threats against a Muslim shopkeeper. We are Americans. Standing up for each other is what the values enshrined in the documents in this room compels us to do, especially when it’s harder. 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.

The truth is, being an American is hard. Being part of a democratic government is hard. Being a citizen is hard. It is a challenge. It’s supposed to be. There’s no respite from our ideals. All of us are called to live up to our expectations for ourselves. Not just when it’s convenient, but when it’s inconvenient, when it’s tough, when we’re afraid. The tension throughout our history between welcoming or rejecting the stranger, it’s about more immigration. It’s about the meaning of America. What kind of country do we want to be? It’s about the capacity of each generation to honor the creed as old as our founding, E pluribus unum, Out of many we are one. Scripture tells us, for we are strangers before you, and sojourners, as were all our fathers. We are strangers before you. And the Mexico 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.

Follow Pam Key on Twitter @pamkeyNEN