The event Thursday at The Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change was one of about 120 ceremonies around the country in early November to naturalize about 8,000 people. Biden used the opportunity to push immigration reform and took a swipe at Republican House Speaker John Boehner.
“Thank you for picking us,” Biden said to the new citizens, saying the United States draws its strength and vitality from a constant infusion of new people, new ideas and new cultures.
He praised the 104 people from about 50 countries who sat in the rows before him for their strength and resilience.
“There’s something different that you all possess,” he said. “Making a decision to leave everything you’ve known is not for the fainthearted.”
He also urged them not to forget the estimated 11 million people living in the country illegally, saying they also deserve a chance to become citizens.
“Don’t pull up the ladder behind you now that you’ve climbed on board,” he said. “There’s millions of people who are already acting as decent Americans that deserve a chance, deserve a path to earn their way.”
Biden and President Barack Obama are backing an immigration overhaul that passed the Senate with bipartisan support. The bill has stalled in the House, where most Republicans prefer a piecemeal approach.
“The only political thing I will say today: I’m extremely disappointed that the speaker of the House of Representatives announced yesterday he will not allow the process to work,” Biden said.
Boehner said Wednesday that the House will not hold formal, compromise talks on the Senate-passed comprehensive immigration bill. The bill faces strong opposition from the House Republican rank and file who reject a comprehensive approach and don’t like the idea of offering citizenship to people who broke immigration laws to get here.
Bernice King, head of The King Center and the youngest child of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., welcomed the new citizens and called for immigration reform, saying, “No human being is illegal or alien because we are all God’s children.”
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Alejandro Mayorkas, himself a naturalized citizen from Cuba, administered the oath of allegiance.
Following the ceremony, the new citizens smiled and posed for pictures, clutching small American flags and their naturalization certificates. Immanuel Fitoussi, 56, who moved to the U.S. from Israel 22 years ago, said he was honored to be sworn in at The King Center and was touched by the vice president’s words.
“We have contributed so much, and to see that he recognized that was amazing,” Fitoussi said of Biden.