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Obama urges immigration reform at citizenship ceremony

President Obama greets U.S. service members while hosting a naturalization ceremony Wednesday to declare them American citizens.

WASHINGTON – In a moving naturalization ceremony in the East Room of the White House, 25 active members of the military declared their allegiance to the United States and became U.S. citizens on Wednesday.

The group hailed from countries ranging from the Ukraine to Cameroon to Honduras. President Barack Obama used the event to highlight his recent immigration announcement and renew the call for comprehensive immigration reform.

The president proclaimed that “America’s success demands comprehensive immigration reform” and that a “Dream Act,” legislation that would give young illegal immigrants a path toward permanent residency, was still necessary.

“For just as we remain a nation of laws, we have to remain a nation of immigrants. That's why as another step forward we're lifting the shadow of deportation…from deserving young people who were brought to this country as children.  That's why we still need a Dream Act to keep talented young people who want to contribute to our society and serve our country,” the president said.

He used the 25 men and women in uniform before him as an example of how the American dream “endures for all those…who are willing to work hard, play by the rules and meet their responsibilities.”

The president also declared the naturalization ceremony as  the “perfect way to celebrate America’s birthday.”  He also said of the group, “All of you did something profound.  You chose to serve.  You put on the uniform of a country that was not yet fully your own in a time of war.  Some of you deployed into harm's way. You displayed the values that we celebrate every Fourth of July: Duty, responsibility and patriotism.”

Last month, Obama announced a policy to stop deporting young illegal immigrants who entered the United States as children if they meet certain requirements.

After administering the Oath of Allegiance, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano highlighted efforts by the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security to expedite the naturalization process for members of the military.

“Since 2001, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has naturalized over 80,000 members of the armed forces, bringing immigration services to our troops wherever they serve. And since 2009, we have offered non-citizen enlistees the opportunity to naturalize before completing basic training so they can graduate as American citizens,” she said.   

It currently takes a few weeks to a few months for an immigrant who has enlisted in the U.S. military to become naturalized citizen.   However, one must be a legal immigrant to enlist, therefore the president’s embargo on deporting young illegal immigrants does not give them an opportunity to enlist and find a way to citizenship via that pathway.