President Obama used a naturalization ceremony in the Rose Garden to lash out at the Arizona Legislature for passing a bill requiring proof of legal status and empowering state and local police to stop people based on a suspicion of being illegal immigrants.
Obama called for comprehensive immigration reform and said Washington's failure to act has bred a climate of fear and retribution in some border states. He singled out the Arizona bill - which would make it crime to be in the state without documentation - now before Republican Gov. Janice Brewer. The governor has until Saturday to decide whether to sign it, veto it or allow it to become law without her signature.
"Our failure to act responsibly at the federal level will only open the door to irresponsibility by others," Obama said. "That includes, for example, the recent efforts in Arizona, which threatened to undermine basic notions of fairness that we cherish as Americans, as well as the trust between police and their communities that is so crucial to keeping us safe."
Obama said the administration will "closely monitor the situation and examine the civil rights and other implications of this legislation."
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs later explained the Justice Department will monitor "potential civil rights violations" experienced by legal residents.
When asked to explain whose rights would be violated, Gibbs said:
"Somebody that gets stopped who is legal resident, is a citizen. It's clear that in the law, if you're suspected to be (illegal) the law allows you to be stopped. You may be a citizen. That's what he's asked the Justice Department to look into, again, if it becomes law."
Asked about next steps, Gibbs said: "Once this becomes law, if it does, the president has asked them (Justice Department lawyers) to evaluate that...it doesn't make sense to get ahead of that evaluation. I think it's pretty safe to say from the president's remarks he's not supportive of the law."
Gibbs said the law would allow police to question legal residents based on the suspicion they could be in the country illegally.
Opponents have said if the bill becomes law enforcement would lead to a variation of racial profiling where Latinos would be questioned repeatedly to establish their legal status.
Gibbs said Obama opposes the bill but has not personally contacted anyone in the Arizona Legislature or Gov. Brewer's office to express his opinion. Brewer faces a GOP primary on Aug. 24 and is under pressure from some conservative groups to sign the bill.
In his Rose Garden remarks, Obama said if Washington fails on immigration reform "we will continue to see misguided efforts opening up around the country."
On Thursday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said immigration reform should be moved ahead of new green energy legislation, a move that cheered Latino voters angered that the issue appeared ignored during Obama's first year.
Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Illinois, chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, called Pelosi's move "a very significant sign."
As for Obama, Gutierrez told Fox: "I want him to keep his promise. During the campaign he made a concerted effort to reach out to Latino and immigrant voters carrying the state of New Mexico and Colorado and Florida, and I think many would say guaranteeing his presidency. There were eight million Latinos voting in 2004, 10 million voting in 2008, went for 60 percent for the Democrats to 70 percent. And when you consider for one moment that he got hammered by (New York Democratic) Senator Hillary Clinton in every primary among Latino voters and yet they came in overwhelming numbers for him in the general election, the stakes are really high."
But Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Alabama, told Fox there's more opposition to comprehensive changes to immigration now than there was when former President Bush failed on the issue in the latter stages of his presidency.
"I think the American people are not happy with the plans they saw before and they're not going to be happy with the plans that might come out of the Obama administration," Sessions said. "Right now we need to be thinking about how to create American jobs. People are out of work. There's more opposition within the Senate and polling data shows more opposition among the American people than time the bill was brought up last time."
Obama delivered his broadside against the pending Arizona immigration bill at a naturalization ceremony for 24 members of the U.S. military who became citizens after reciting the oath delivered by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. As governor of Arizona, Napolitano vetoed previous efforts to require proof of legal residency to state and local law enforcement.
The newly minted citizens are immigrants from the following countries: England, Philippines, Togo, Spain, Mexico, Guyana, Jamaica, Peru, Papua New Guinea, Haiti, Brazil, Kenya, Poland, Ethiopia, China and Colombia .
Read their bios here:
Sergeant Ledum Ndaanee, U.S. Marine Corps (E-5), recipient of the Outstanding American by Choice recognition:
Sergeant (Sgt.) Ledum D. Ndaanee was born in Nigeria on May 2, 1982. At the age of 16, he moved to the United States with his family, settling in Richmond, VA. After attending a local community college, Sgt. Ndaanee had his heart set on serving his new country by joining the U.S. Marine Corps. He enlisted in September 2004.
Sgt. Ndaanee deployed to Iraq on two separate occasions with the 1st Battalion, 2d Marines in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. On August 4, 2007, while assigned as a turret gunner conducting combat operations, he suffered a concussion and traumatic brain injury as the result of an improvised explosive device.
While recovering from his injuries at Wounded Warrior Battalion-East in Camp Lejeune, NC, Sgt. Ndaanee played a vital role in the recovery process of his fellow Marines and Sailors. He was instrumental in encouraging others to overcome their injuries by serving as a mentor. After recovering from his wounds, Sgt. Ndaanee achieved an important milestone in his life by becoming a U.S. citizen in November 2007.
Sgt. Ndaanee is currently serving as the non-commissioned Officer-in-Charge of the Warrior Athlete Reconditioning (WAR) Program's Strength and Conditioning Team and is also a member of the aquatics team within Wounded Warrior Battalion-East. Over the course of his military career, Sgt. Ndaanee has been recognized with several honors including the Good Conduct Medal, Purple Heart Combat Action Ribbon, Iraq Campaign Medal, Sea Service Deployment Ribbon, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, and the National Defense Service Medal.
Service members becoming American citizens:
Michael Zach Armstrong, U.S. Army, England
Born in England, Armstrong entered the United States in 2002. He enlisted in the Army in 2009 and currently serves in Selected Reserve of the Ready Reserve as a PFC, E-3.
Lenard Canlas Belvis, U.S. Air Force Reserve, Philippines
Born in the Philippines, Belvis became a permanent United States resident in 2005. In 2009, he enlisted in the Air Force Reserves and is currently a Senior Airman.
Tei Aristide Bislao, U.S. Navy, Togo
Born in Togo, Bislao came to the United States in 2002. He enlisted in the Navy in 2009 and serves as an E-3.
Anthony Cabalerro, U.S. Navy, Spain
Born in Spain, Cabalerro graduated from Brooklyn Academy in 2005, and immediately enlisted in the Navy. Presently, he serves as an aviation fuel specialist with the rank of 3rd class Petty Officer.
Maria-Antonette Capio Cabantog, U.S. Air Force, Philippines
Born in the Philippines, Cabantog enlisted in the Air Force in 2008 and currently holds rank E-2 as a Services Apprentice.
Perla Conception Ramos de Chavira, U.S. Navy, Mexico
Born in Mexico, Chavira came to the United States in 2001 and in 2009 enlisted in the Navy and currently serves as an Aviation Machinist Mate.
Rommel Cruz Cuenco, U.S. Navy, Philippines
Born in the Philippines, Cuenco acquired lawful permanent resident status in 2002. He enlisted in the Navy in 2005 and presently serves as an E-4.
Affeya Tiffany Christine Grant, U.S. Navy, Guyana
Born in Guyana, Grant entered the United States in 1993. She enlisted in the Navy in 2009 and currently serves as an E-3.
Therica Tameica Hutchinson, U.S. Army, Jamaica
Born in Jamaica, Hutchinson obtained lawful permanent resident status in 1994. She enlisted in the Army in 2004 and is currently serving as a Sergeant.
Oscar Gaspar Manrique, U.S. Air Force, Peru
Born in Peru, Manrique came to the United States with his mother in 1992. In college he joined the Air National Guard and is currently a Senior Airman.
Granger Lawrence Michael, U.S. Marine Corps, Papua New Guinea
Born in Papua New Guinea, Michael came to the United States with his family as the son of a diplomat. He enlisted in the Marine Corps in 2004 and currently serves as a Corporal, E-4.
Roosevelt Joseph, U.S. Navy, Haiti
Born in Haiti, Joseph came to the United States as a child in 1997. In 2004, he enlisted in the Navy and now serves as an E4, Corpsman.
Raquel De Olivera Moura, U.S. Navy, Brazil
Born in Brazil, Moura obtained her lawful permanent residence status in 2004. In 2007, she enlisted in the Navy and at present holds rank E-4 as an Aviation Structural Mechanic.
James Nyaga Muchoki, U.S. Army, Kenya
Born in Kenya, Muchoki obtained his lawful permanent residence status in 1996. He enlisted in the Air Forces' Selected Reserve of the Ready Reserve in 2007 and in 2008 enlisted in the Army's Selected Reserve of the Ready Reserve. At present, he holds rank E-4 in the occupation of a radiology technologist.
Jerdaine Devon Oldacre, U.S. Navy, Jamaica
Born in Jamaica, Oldacre obtained lawful permanent resident status in 2004. In 2009, he enlisted in the Navy and currently holds the rank of an E-1.
Soraya Conceicao Ross, U.S. Marine Corps, Brazil
Born in Brazil, Ross obtained lawful permanent resident status in 2006. In 2009, she enlisted in the Marine Corps and at present is a Combat Engineer.
Charlyston Schultz, U.S. Marine Corps, Brazil
Born in Brazil, Schultz obtained his lawful permanent residence status in 1998. He enlisted in the Marine Corps in 2007 and at present serves as a Captain.
Raul Pagaduan Sibayan, U.S. Army, Philippines
Born in the Philippines, Sibayan enlisted in the Army in 2009 at present holds rank E-4 in maintenance.
Andrew Hopeton Smith, U.S. Army, Jamaica
Born in Jamaica, Smith enlisted in the Army's Selected Reserve of the Ready Reserve in 2009 and at present holds rank E-3 as a Unit Supply Specialist.
Marcin Dominik Staniszewski, U.S. Marine Corps, Poland
Born in Poland, Staniszewski became a lawful permanent resident in 2004. He enlisted in the Marine Corps and at present, he is an AAV Mechanic holding rank E-3.
Berhan Kifetew Teferi, U.S. Army, Ethiopia
Born in Ethiopia, Teferi entered the United States with his family in 2005. In 2008 he enlisted in the Army as a reservist and is currently an E3, PFC.
Pitrianne Natoya Williams, U.S. Navy, Jamaica
Born in Jamaica, Williams obtained her lawful permanent resident status in 2007. She enlisted in the Navy in 2008 and currently holds the rank of E-1 as an Aviation Boatswain Mate for Equipment.
Yu Yuan, U.S. Air Force, China
Born in the People's Republic of China, Yuan entered the United States in 2003. She enlisted in the Air Force in 2009 and serves as a Material Management Specialist.
Jhonathan Zapata Garcia, U.S. Navy, Colombia
Born in Colombia, Garcia obtained lawful permanent residence status in 2006. He enlisted in the Navy in 2008, and is currently an Aviation Mechanist, AM-3.
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