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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
July 24, 2006
President Bush Attends Naturalization Ceremony
Walter Reed Army Medical Center
10:12 A.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you all. Thanks for coming. Thanks for letting me come back, General, proud to be here. I'm really looking forward to witnessing what is going to be a very uplifting ceremony.
In a few moments, these men will swear the oath to become citizens of the United States of America. As part of the ceremony they will promise to support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic. This isn't going to be the first time these men have made such a promise. They took a similar oath when they became soldiers of the United States Army. And their presence here bears witness that they kept their word so that others might be free.
I appreciate General Farmer, and I want to thank all the folks who work here. I'm incredibly impressed by the health care and the decency and the compassion of the people who work here at Walter Reed. You bring great credit to our country. I can't tell you the number of times when I travel around America that I brag about Walter Reed and the health care you deliver.
I appreciate Dr. Emilio Gonzalez, who will be administering the oath of office. He's the Director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. He's the head guy who came over to deliver the oath. (Laughter.)
I want to thank Colonel Deal and everybody else. I particularly want to say thanks to the families of these three men. Thank you for joining us today.
Through the generations, our nation has remained strong and free because men and women put on our uniform and defend this country, and defend our beliefs. The three men we honor today have brought honor to America. Like those who have come before, each of these men chose to protect our country because they love what America stands for.
Army Specialist Sergio Lopez had always wanted to join the Army, and in 2003, he volunteered. After basic training he moved to Fort Hood, Texas, home of the 1st Cavalry Division and the 4th Infantry Division. Specialist Lopez then deployed to Iraq. He put his life on the line each day, driving between observation posts and his unit's forward operating base in the Baghdad area. In January, he was injured by an improvised explosive device.
Specialist Lopez says that becoming a citizen, "represents being acknowledged as having done my duty, having done my part for the country, like the oath says, defending the United States."
Today, we honor Army Private First Class Eduardo Leal-Cardenas. He was injured when an IED blew up his vehicle in Iraq. Private Leal-Cardenas is a man of few words, and he's a man of action. When some questioned whether he would ever walk again, he laughed, and he began his rehab while still in his bed. When Private Leal-Cardenas is asked what citizenship in America means to him, he just said one word: Freedom.
And finally, we honor Army Specialist Lito Santos-Dilone. He was injured while serving as part of the protection detail in Iraq. I first met Specialist Santos-Dilone at this year's National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast. I was working the rope line. He grabbed my hand, and he said, "I'm not a citizen of the United States and I want to be one." Now, here's a man who knows how to take it directly to the top. (Laughter.) I'm proud to be here when he gets sworn in.
We are stronger and more dynamic when we welcome new citizens like these. More than 33,000 non-U.S. citizens currently serve in our military. Isn't that interesting -- 33,000 people who weren't born here serve in our military. And just like everybody else who wears the uniform, they understand the stakes of what it means to serve in the United States military, particularly after September the 11th, 2001.
After that date, I signed an executive order making foreign-born members of our military immediately eligible for U.S. citizenship when they serve on active duty. It made sense to me. If somebody is willing to risk their life for our country, they ought to be full participants in our country.
As our nation debates the future of our immigration policies, we must remember the contribution of these good men, and all who dream of contributing to this country's future. It says something about our country that people around the world are willing to leave their homes and leave their families and risk everything to come to America. Their talent and hard work and love of freedom have helped make America the leader of the world. And our generation will ensure that America remains a beacon of liberty and the most hopeful society this world has ever known.
I believe this country can be a lawful society and a welcoming society at the same time. We're going to enforce our laws, but we'll also honor our proud immigrant heritage. I support a comprehensive immigration reform that will accomplish five clear objectives. First, we'll secure our borders. Second, we must create a temporary worker program that provides foreign workers a legal and orderly way to come into the country and do jobs Americans aren't doing. We must hold employers to account for the workers they hire. In other words, it's against the law to hire an illegal immigrant, and we're going to hold employers to account.
We must resolve the status of millions of illegal immigrants who are here already. We shouldn't be granting people automatic citizenship, nor is it possible to kick people out of the country. There's got to be a rational way, and I proposed a way forward. And, finally, we've got to honor the great American tradition of the melting pot by helping newcomers assimilate into our society.
Congress is now considering legislation on immigration reform; that legislation must be comprehensive. All elements of the problem must be addressed together, or none of them will be solved at all.
This is a joyful day for these men, and it's a joyful day for me to be here with them. And it's a proud day for our nation. We gain three new citizens today, men who knew the cost of freedom and are willing to pay that cost so others can live free. It's a privilege to be their Commander-in-Chief, and I look forward to calling them fellow citizens.
I want to congratulate you for your achievement. I want to thank you for your service. I ask for God's blessings on you and your family, and for God's blessings on the United States of America.
And now we'll have the oath of citizenship administered. (Applause.)
END 10:24 A.M. EDT