Good morning. Thank you, Director Gonzalez, for having me here, and congratulations to all of today’s new American citizens.
This is, truly, a great day to be an American – and what more magnificent setting to celebrate the spirit of our great nation than here aboard the USS Intrepid. Her history, which tells the story of freedom’s fight, reminds us of the heart and sacrifice made every day by our men and women in uniform, some of whom risk their lives every day for America even though they are not American citizens.
You have all been Americans in your hearts for some time. But you will never forget this very special day, and how it felt to take the oath that made you, officially, an American citizen.
Like so many new Americans before you, you will pass that feeling, that pride, on to your children and grandchildren.
My parents were both children of immigrants who instilled in me a deep appreciation for being an American. They never let me forget that being a citizen of this great country means having limitless opportunities – if you work hard!
When I became Attorney General I took an oath much like the one you all took today – and I couldn’t help feeling, at that time, the power and the blessings of a country that my grandparents chose. A country that enabled a family to produce an Attorney General just two generations after coming here. And they came with nothing more than their names, their work ethic, and their desire to make a better life for themselves and their children.
To be an American citizen is special; you know this. It is a coveted and respected title all over the world. The freedom and opportunity offered by the United States attracts so many hopeful souls, in fact, that we are challenged to manage the flow of immigrants into our country.
The desire to achieve this title, this status, of American citizenship is why we are a nation of immigrants – and that is a characterization that we should preserve. Diversity makes our country strong and rich in ways that are difficult to quantify. What is clear is that a nation made up of people who came here for freedom, or who were born to parents or grandparents who sought freedom – is a special land indeed. The diversity this has rendered is important to cherish and to protect.
We are also a nation of laws, and that is one of America’s strengths as well.
I imagine the new citizens here today are very aware of the fact that the legal path you took to citizenship is not being followed by millions of other people who are nonetheless benefiting from the opportunities of this great country.
You, and I, understand their desire to be Americans, of course. But Illegal immigration compromises the core American value of fairness.
The President and I believe that, morally, those of us in government owe it to you – the people who followed the rules to become citizens – to enact comprehensive immigration reform, and to do it right.
To get it right, the new policy must be reasonable, fair and just. It must also be based in reality. For example, we cannot, realistically, deport the 12 million people who are here illegally today. And we cannot ignore those who came here illegally, but have been living and working here for a long time. Most are people who have otherwise been productive and law-abiding members of our society.
These people should be given the chance to earn citizenship. To do so, they should have to pay substantial fines, pay back taxes and pay back-Social Security taxes if they haven’t already. Finally, they will have to start at the beginning of the process of gaining their citizenship. This is only fair to those who – like those of you here today – are or were already in line legally, and those who for many years followed the law and followed the rules.
Citizenship in this country is a privilege, and it must be earned. Each of you knows this.
Like anything that is earned, citizenship will be especially cherished by those who work for it. For those who came here illegally, immigration reform will make the road to citizenship harder and longer, but not out of reach. Again, this is a fair and practical solution to the challenge facing all Americans, including those Americans with us today.
In my position, I frequently discuss the importance of the rule of law. It is one of the core values that makes our country great and keeps it free. Comprehensive immigration reform will restore faith in the rule of law while honoring our tradition as a nation of immigrants. And this is the beauty of well-constructed laws – they protect what we value most while keeping pace with changing times, circumstances and challenges.
As newly naturalized citizens, each of you has an important perspective on the challenge our country faces with immigration. Please exercise your wonderful rights as citizens by engaging your public officials in conversations on this topic. I know that your input will be valued.
I appreciate that your path to citizenship has been long, it has been legal, and each of you have displayed both tenacity and love of country by completing the steps and following the rules. Again, I am proud to be with you on this, one of the most memorable and important days of your lives – the day you became citizens of the land of the free, the home of the brave.
So congratulations and welcome to the ever-growing, dynamic and wonderfully diverse American family. May God bless you and may He continue to bless this country you now proudly call “home.”
Thank you and good luck pursuing the American dream.