WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama on Wednesday urged Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders to fight bigotry and to press Congress to update U.S. immigration policy.
Obama said America’s tradition is to welcome newcomers because it was founded by immigrants. He said that tradition also makes difficult to understand why some people are blocking efforts to overhaul U.S. immigration laws.
“We don’t simply welcome new immigrants. We are born of immigrants,” Obama told hundreds attending the annual awards dinner for the Asian Pacific American Institute of Congressional Studies. The nonpartisan, nonprofit organization promotes Asian-American and Pacific Islander participation and representation in politics.
Obama sought to connect with the audience by noting his birth in Hawaii and his youth in Indonesia.
“The spirit and culture of the Asia-Pacific region, that’s who I am,” he said.
Comprehensive immigration legislation cleared the Senate in 2013, but the House has not voted on it. Obama has used his executive authority to shield some immigrants living illegally in the country from deportation, but more than two dozen states, led by Texas, challenged his action in federal court.
The Supreme Court recently heard arguments in the case and a decision is expected by the end of June.
In his remarks, Obama said: “The actions I’ve taken on my own can’t take the place of what we really need, which is Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform. … You have the power to push Congress to do it.”
He said the AAPI community is the fastest-growing minority group in the U.S., but is also significantly underrepresented at the ballot box.
In a reference to Donald Trump, who on Wednesday became the likely Republican presidential nominee, Obama urged the audience to push back against anti-immigrant sentiment, especially from those who he says stoke such feelings for political gain. Trump has called for barring Muslims from entering the country.
Obama said that just as the U.S. has moved beyond “No Irish need apply” signs, questioning the loyalty of Catholics, persecuting Chinese immigrants and its treatment of Japanese-Americans and immigrants during World War II, “we are going to move beyond today’s anti-immigrant sentiment, as well.”
“We will live up to our ideals,” said Obama.
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