On July Fourth holiday, Obama urges immigration overhaul

WASHINGTON Fri Jul 4, 2014 12:31pm EDT

U.S. President Barack Obama (L) looks on as Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas (C, at podium) administers the Oath of Allegiance to members of the U.S. military and military spouses at a ceremony for them to become naturalized U.S. citizens at the White House in Washington July 4, 2014. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

U.S. President Barack Obama (L) looks on as Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas (C, at podium) administers the Oath of Allegiance to members of the U.S. military and military spouses at a ceremony for them to become naturalized U.S. citizens at the White House in Washington July 4, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama told Americans on the Independence Day holiday on Friday that welcoming immigrants to the United States is "central to our way of life" as he made an impassioned argument for a new immigration policy.

"We have to fix our immigration system, which is broken, and pass common-sense immigration reform," Obama said at a White House ceremony for 25 foreign-born men and women who gained American citizenship for their service in the U.S. military.

Obama is struggling on two fronts in the immigration debate.

His drive for Congress to pass a comprehensive immigration overhaul this year collapsed when House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner, the top Republican in Washington, told him the House would not hold a vote.

Along the southern U.S. border in Texas, Obama's administration is attempting to get a handle on the tens of thousands of children from Central America who have flooded into the country, straining resources and leading to Republican criticism that Obama is not doing enough to stop the surge.

The twin challenges have put Obama in a difficult position. While he has vowed to take executive actions on his own to make it easier for undocumented people to remain in the United States, he says most of the recent migrants will be sent home.

This has upset immigration advocacy groups who support him and see the new migrants as victims of gang violence in their home countries.

Obama's remarks in the White House East Room underscored his message that the United States would be a weaker nation without immigrants.

"The basic idea of welcoming immigrants to our shores is central to our way of life," Obama said. "It's in our DNA. ... We shouldn't be making it harder for the best and brightest to come here."

Obama is scheduled to visit Texas next week to participate in events to raise money for Democratic candidates in the November congressional elections. But he will resist Republican pressure to visit the border, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said on Friday.

At the White House ceremony, 25 people were sworn in as citizens. They came from 15 countries ranging from Australia to Guatemala to the Philippines to Ukraine.

(Reporting by Steve Holland; Editing by Leslie Adler)

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