President Obama began his Fourth of July celebration Wednesday by naturalizing 25 active-duty service members, using the event to highlight his recent executive order to spare hundreds of thousands from deportation and press lawmakers to pass a comprehensive immigration overhaul.
After Homeland Security Secretary Janet A. Napolitano swore in the new citizens in the East Room of the White House, Mr. Obama congratulated the individuals and their families.
“What a perfect way to celebrate America’s birthday - the world’s oldest democracy - with some of our newest citizens,” he said.
“I have to tell you, just personally, this is one of my favorite things to do. It brings me great joy and inspiration, because it reminds us that we are a country that is bound together not simply by our ethnicity or bloodlines, but by fidelity to a set of ideas,” he continued.
Mr. Obama said he was particularly proud to welcome the group of service members as fellow citizens because they chose to serve the country “that was not yet fully your own” in a time of war.
Stressing that America is a nation of immigrants and the important role each generation has played in helping build and shape the country, Mr. Obama called on Congress to pass the Dream Act, which would grant citizenship to certain illegal immigrants who arrived here as children and remain in good moral standing, as well as a comprehensive overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws.
“For just as we remain a nation of laws, we have to remain a nation of immigrants” he said. “And 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.
“It’s why we still need a Dream Act - to keep talented young people who want to contribute to our society and serve our country,” he said. “It’s why we need - why America’s success demands - comprehensive immigration reform.”
In mid-June, Mr. Obama bypassed Congress and issued a directive allowing potentially more than 800,000 young people to remain in the United States without the risk of being deported.
The politically charged decision came as Mr. Obama faces a tough re-election fight against likely Republican nominee Mitt Romney, and Hispanic voters in swing states will play a critical role in determining who occupies the Oval Office next year.
Mr. Romney has said he would veto the Dream Act. He said he favors a path to citizenship only for illegal immigrant young adults who join the military.
Hours after the Obama announcement, Mr. Romney said the move could make it harder to find a long-term fix to the immigration issue.
In the weeks since, Mr. Romney has been vague about his position, but he recently told supporters in a private meeting that he would not modify the hard-line immigration stance and opposition to amnesty he took during the Republican presidential primaries, according to a report earlier this week in Politico.
The Dream Act last came before Congress in 2010 when it was defeated on a bipartisan filibuster.
Democrats have introduced their own legislation again this year, and called for the GOP to work with them.
Mr. Romney has enlisted the campaign trail help of Sen. Marco Rubio, Florida Republican, a Cuban-American and rising star in the GOP who is working on his own version of a Dream Act.
Mr. Obama and the first family planned to spend the afternoon and evening with military families at a USO concert on the White House’s South Lawn featuring country music star Brad Paisley and the Marine Corps Band.
The president will jump on a campaign bus Thursday for a two-day “Betting on America” tour that will take him through several northern Ohio communities that were instrumental to his 2008 win in the state and then onto Pennsylvania, another state he previously won, for an event in Pittsburgh.
Mr. Romney, who has been campaigning nearly nonstop since the end of primaries in the spring, was planning to spend the entire week with his family at their lakeside home in Wolfeboro, N.H., where he has been seen aboard a personal watercraft with his wife, playing volleyball with his five sons and taking his grandchildren out for ice cream.
While he may be technically on vacation, but he is still staying focused on November. Mr. Romney huddled with campaign advisers Wednesday, as well as the aide overseeing his vice-presidential search. He made his first official public appearance of the week marching in Wolfeboro’s July Fourth parade, shaking hands and speaking from the bed of a pickup truck.
• Stephen Dinan contributed to this report.