President Obama speaks at a ceremony granting immigrants American citizenship every year. But in the shadow of heightened Islamophobia across the country, he took the opportunity Tuesday to make an appeal to Americans: Don’t repeat the country’s history of prejudice.
From forcing Africans into slavery to displaying signs in New York City shops proclaiming “No Irish Need Apply” to interning Japanese-Americans and immigrants during World War II, “we haven’t always lived up to” American ideals, he said.
“We succumbed to fear,” Obama said of those dark moments in American history. “We betrayed not only our fellow Americans but our deepest values.”
But the “biggest irony,” he said, was that “those who betrayed these values were themselves the children of immigrants.
“How quickly we forget. One generation passes, two generations pass, and suddenly we don't remember where we came from. We suggest that somehow there is ‘us’ and there is ‘them,’ not remembering we used to be them,” he said. “On days like today, we need to resolve never to repeat mistakes like that again.”
Standing in front of the Constitution at the National Archives, Obama took aim at the rising tide of intolerance and anti-immigrant fear. Though the ceremony, which officially granted 31 candidates U.S. citizenship, is an annual ritual that had been scheduled for weeks, the political climate around immigrants, and Muslims in particular, imbued the event with renewed significance. For Obama, it was an opportunity to counter Donald Trump’s xenophobic rhetoric—and show the country his commitment to keeping immigration “at the core of our national character.”