First lady Michelle Obama urged overhauling the nation’s immigration laws Wednesday while presiding over a naturalization ceremony for 50 new U.S. citizens at the National Archives.
“Today in Washington, folks are still debating whether or not to fix our immigration system even though just about everyone agrees that it is broken,” she said.
She said her husband continued to make immigration revisions his top legislative priority, despite the inability to get Congress to go along. Action by Congress is even more unlikely now, since House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia was defeated in a Republican primary in part because of complaints that he appeared willing to compromise with Democrats on an overhaul.
“He refuses to give up the fight, because at the end of the day this fight isn’t about abstract principles; it’s about real people,” the first lady said of President Barack Obama. “People like you. People like us. Our fellow Americans.”
Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson delivered the oath of allegiance, the promise that naturalization candidates recite in order to be declared citizens.
“Ever since you’ve been in this country, someone will look at you, listen to your accent and ask your name _ and they’ll ask you where you are from,” Johnson said. “From this day forward, you can say, ‘I’m an American.’ Just like that.”
Johnson’s department is reviewing the administration’s handling of immigration.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services randomly selected the 50 naturalization candidates who attended Wednesday’s ceremony. They came from 44 countries, and all live in the Washington area, according to the agency’s public affairs officer, Joanne Ferreira.
“Immigration is at the heart of how we developed as a nation,” Michelle Obama said. “We still, very much, are a nation of immigrants.”
The U.S. naturalizes 600,000 to 700,000 candidates every year, and the ceremonies take place nearly every day across the country. Individuals with green cards must be in the country five years before they qualify for naturalization, and those applying for citizenship through marriage have to live in the U.S. for three years.