Washington - Barack Obama plans to highlight a positive side of the immigration debate by presiding over an Independence Day citizenship ceremony for military members who signed up to defend the US even though they weren't American citizens.
A total of 25 members will spend the Fourth of July as American citizens after the deputy secretary for homeland security delivers the oath of allegiance at a White House ceremony on Friday.
The group includes 15 active-duty service members from the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines, along with two veterans, one reservist and seven spouses, the White House said. They represent 15 countries.
The politically divisive immigration issue is earning renewed attention after the influx of tens of thousands of unaccompanied children from Central America who, under US law, must be sent back across the border to their home countries. That has upset advocates of overhauling US immigration policy who want Obama to allow the children to stay.
At the same time, Obama blames Republicans in the House of Representatives for delaying action on an immigration overhaul. A comprehensive measure the Senate passed last year has been blocked by House leaders who also have done little to advance legislative proposals of their own.
'A nation of immigrants'
Obama announced this week that, as a result of lawmakers' inaction, he will pursue ways that he can adjust US immigration policy without waiting for Congress to act.
Obama and his wife, Michelle, will spend the Fourth of July with military members they invite to the White House for a barbecue on the South Lawn and choice seating for the fireworks on the National Mall. Obama said some of the members who will be at the White House on Friday are unique.
"They signed up to serve, to sacrifice, potentially to give their lives for the security of this country even though they weren't yet Americans. That's how much they love this country," Obama said in announcing the ceremony earlier this week. "They were prepared to fight and die for an America they did not yet fully belong to. I think they've earned their stripes in more ways than one."
He said it is worth celebrating that the US is "a nation of immigrants".
"We won this country's freedom together. We built this country together. We defended this country together," he said. "It makes us special. It makes us strong. It makes us Americans. That's worth celebrating."
Obama participated in naturalisation ceremonies at the White House in 2009, 2010, 2012 and last year.
Friday's ceremony will also recognize internationally known celebrity chef Jose Andres for outstanding achievements by a naturalised US citizen. Andres, who is aged 44 and was born in Spain, became a citizen last November.