Obama spoke before a group of 31 naturalization candidates from 25 different countries at the National Archives and demolished the fear and bigotry that Republicans are campaigning on.
The President said:
We celebrate this history, this heritage, as an immigrant nation, and we should be strong enough to acknowledge as painful as it may be that we haven’t always lived up to our own ideals. We haven’t always lived up to these documents.
From the start, Africans were brought here in chains against their will and then toiled under the whip. They also built America. A century ago, New York City shops displayed those signs no Irish need apply. Catholics were targeted. Their loyalty was questioned, so much so that as recently as the 1950s and 60s when JFK had to run he had to convince people that his allegiance wasn’t primarily to the Pope.
Chinese immigrants faced persecution and vicious stereotypes and for a time were even banned from entering America.
During World War II German and Italian residents were detained, and in one of the darkest chapters in our history, Japanese immigrants, and even Japanese-American citizens were forced from their homes and imprisoned in camps.
We succumbed to fear. We betrayed, not only our fellow Americans but our deepest values. We betrayed these documents. It’s happened before.
And the biggest irony, of course, was that those who betrayed these values were themselves the children of immigrants. One generation passes, two generations passes, and suddenly we don’t remember where we came from. And we suggest that somehow there is us, and there is them. Not remembering that we used to be them.
On days like today, we need to resolve never to repeat mistakes like that again.
Obama’s speech was a brilliant deconstruction of why the hatred and bigotry that the Republicans are campaigning on is un-American. The idea of banning an entire group of people from entering the country based on their religious beliefs is un-American. The idea that we should have a religious test that would only allow persons of certain faiths to enter the country is also un-American.
What Republicans are suggesting are reactionary policies based on a fear that is completely inconsistent with the values of the country.
Through his words and actions, President Obama is showing all Americans the difference between a real leader and the paper demagogues who are running for the Republican presidential nomination.
The Republican Party’s weakness must not be allowed to become America’s weakness, which is why those who are trying to win a presidential election by exploiting bigotry and fear must be stopped.