U.S. President Barack Obama on Wednesday said that "immigration makes America stronger" while presiding over a ceremony welcoming some two dozen U.S. service members as newly-sworn American citizens.
About a dozen of the new citizens are Hispanics originally from Bolivia, Honduras, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico, El Salvador and Colombia.
"Immigration makes us more prosperous. Immigration positions America to lead in the 21st century," said Obama before an audience made up of the relatives of the naturalized Americans at the White House.
He added that no other nation renews itself as regularly and constantly as the United States thanks to the arrival of immigrants.
One of new citizens, Guatemalan Carlos Alberto Navichoque, told about his journey from being an illegal immigrant almost 16 years ago to receiving U.S. citizenship after serving in Iraq as a transport operator in 2010.
"We entered by Tijuana (Mexico), it was very dangerous, but it was worth it. Today has been an emotional day, with a lot of nervousness. I'm proud to be part of this nation and to serve in the U.S. Army," Navichoque told Efe.
However, he also said he wanted to send a message of hope to immigrants who come to the United States.
"We're going through tough times all the time, but we should never lose faith," he emphasized.
Obama emphasized that July 4, Independence Day, is an appropriate time to hold such a ceremony, at which 25 members of the armed forces obtained their U.S. citizenship papers.
"Unless you are one of the first Americans, a native American, we are all descended from folks who came from somewhere else," the president said. "The story of immigrants in America isn't a story of them. It's a story of us."
Silvano Carcamo, born in Honduras, was visibly emotional at the ceremony, where he was accompanied by his wife and son.
"It's incredible. I want to leave a good legacy to my son. I fought for the country, I want him to value citizenship more," Carcamo - a Navy medic who recently returned from Afghanistan - told Efe after the ceremony.
Obama was accompanied at the ceremony by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and the director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Alejandro Mayorkas.
Napolitano emphasized that the freedoms we enjoy are the consequence of the sacrifices made by people like the newly sworn-in citizens.
Obama presided at similar citizenship ceremonies at the White House in May 2009 and April 2010.
The naturalization process requires a person to have lived legally in the United States for at least five years and to be able to speak, read and write English, to have knowledge of how the government works and the country's history and to comply with moral principles. EFE