President Barack Obama marked the Fourth of July by welcoming two dozen U.S. service members as newly-sworn American citizens, saying the contributions they have already made dramatize the need for Washington to achieve comprehensive immigration reform.
"Immigration makes America stronger," Obama said. "Immigration makes us more prosperous. Immigration positions America to lead in the 21st century."
The 25 active duty U.S. service members who became citizens Wednesday hailed from 17 different countries, including Mexico, Nigeria and Russia. In front of an audience of family and friends, the service members were administered the oath of allegiance by Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano in the East Room of the White House.
Obama said the varied backgrounds of those taking the oath typified America's long tradition of welcoming immigrants from around the world to its shores.
"Unless you are one of the first Americans, a native American, we are all descended from folks who came from somewhere else," he said. "The story of immigrants in America isn't a story of them. It's a story of us."
The president briefly touted his administration's move last month to stop deporting young people who were brought to the country as children and joined the U.S. military or went to college. But he acknowledged there was more work to be done in order to achieve a comprehensive overhaul of the immigration system.
Obama's lack of progress on this count has been a particular frustration for many Hispanics, a key voting bloc in the November general election. Still, polls show Obama with a sizable lead over Republican rival Mitt Romney among Hispanic voters.
The president spoke shortly after returning to the White House from Camp David, the presidential retreat in the nearby Maryland mountains. Later Wednesday, Obama was to host military families at the White House for a barbeque and fireworks viewing.