President Joe Biden hosted a naturalization ceremony on Friday to swear in and welcome 21 new U.S. citizens ahead of Independence Day.
“It’s the dreams of immigrants like you that build America and continue to inject new energy, new vitality and new strength,” Biden said at the ceremony in the East Room of the White House.
The president was joined at the event by Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, who shared the story of his immigrant parents’ journey to the United States as refugees.
“Our country is also better today because its identity and its fabric as a nation of immigrants is stronger because of you,” Mayorkas said after the new citizens were sworn in.
Tracy Renaud, the acting director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, performed the swearing-in. The USCIS announced Thursday that it would hold 170 naturalization ceremonies in the first week of July.
The jubilant ceremony at the White House belied the challenge the Biden administration is facing as it works to stem the ongoing migrant crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border.
The president came into office pledging to pursue an immigration policy that was both more humane and more orderly than that of his predecessor, former President Donald Trump.
At Friday’s ceremony, Biden commended immigrants for their contributions to the country, noting that many serve in the military or have been working as health-care and front-line workers during the pandemic.
The president also presented an award to Sandra Lindsay, a nurse from Long Island who immigrated to the U.S. from Jamaica when she was 18 years old.
Lindsay was the first person in America to get fully vaccinated outside of clinical trials, Biden said. Her scrubs will form part of a future exhibit about Covid at the Smithsonian Institution, he added.
“Since our nation’s founding, the quintessential idea in America has been nurtured and advanced by the contributions and sacrifices of so many people, almost all of whom were immigrants,” Biden said.
The president also took the opportunity to tout his administration’s efforts to reform the immigration system.
He highlighted his support for the immigration reform bill introduced by Democrats in February, which includes improved border management and security, and a pathway to citizenship for 11 million undocumented people in America.
He also praised Vice President Kamala Harris’ efforts to identify the “root causes” of the recent surge in Central American migrants coming to the U.S.-Mexico border.
Harris visited the southern border earlier this month but faced criticism from Republicans for not having gone there sooner.
The heart of the migrant surge has been an unprecedented jump in the number of unaccompanied minors apprehended at the border and remanded to U.S. government custody while suitable guardians are located.
But that number has been falling steadily since it reached a high in March of this year. As of Tuesday, there were 14,400 unaccompanied minors in U.S. government care, a 35% drop from two months ago, when the Health and Human Services Department was housing more than 22,000 minors.
Democrats and pro-immigrant activists are urging Biden to further scale back border enforcement and to do more to ensure the humane treatment of migrant children and families at the southern border.