WASHINGTON — Celebrating the ethnic diversity of America, President Obama said more than two dozen foreign-born service members who became US citizens at the White House on the Fourth of July are vivid reminders that welcoming immigrants ‘‘is central to our way of life.’’
He pleaded anew for new immigration policies, saying the vast range of backgrounds and experiences that has made America a melting pot for more than 200 years also makes the country stronger. He argued that the system must be retooled for the United States to remain the greatest nation on earth.
‘‘The basic idea of welcoming immigrants to our shores is central to our way of life; it is in our DNA,’’ Obama said after the 25 service members representing 15 countries raised their right hands and pledged allegiance to the United States.
‘‘From all these different strands, we make something new here in America. And that’s why, if we want to keep attracting the best and brightest from beyond our borders, we’re going to have to fix our immigration system, which is broken,’’ he said. ‘‘Pass common-sense immigration reform.”
The immigration issue is earning renewed attention because of the influx of tens of thousands of unaccompanied children from Central America. Under US law, they must be returned to their home countries, angering immigration advocates who already take issue with Obama’s enforcement of deportations. They want Obama to allow the children to stay.
At the same time, Obama blames House Republicans for delaying action on legislation covering the millions already living in the US illegally. A comprehensive measure the Senate passed last summer has been blocked by House leaders, who also have done little to advance their own immigration proposals.
Obama said earlier this week that, as a result of inaction on Capitol Hill, he will pursue non-legislative ways he can adjust US immigration policy on his own. He scheduled a trip to Texas next week, mostly to raise money for Democratic candidates, but he plans not to visit the border.
‘‘I’m going to keep doing everything I can to keep making our immigration system smarter and more efficient,’’ Obama said Friday.
Across the country, more than 100 demonstrators, most of whom support immigrants, gathered again Friday outside a US Border Patrol station in Murrieta, Calif., where the agency intends to process some of the immigrants who have flooded the Texas border with Mexico.
Earlier this week a crowd of protesters blocked buses carrying women and children migrants who were flown in from overwhelmed Texas facilities. The Border Patrol had to take the migrants elsewhere.
Rumors had swirled among anti-immigration activists that the agency would try again to bus in some of the immigrants who have flooded across the US-Mexico border.
Law enforcement officers separated the two sides, leaving enough space for a bus to drive into the station. Instead, by late Friday afternoon, there were only dueling anti- and pro-immigration rallies.
The crowd of 200 outside the station in Murrieta waved signs and sometimes shouted at each other. One banner read: ‘‘Proud legal American. It doesn’t work any other way.’’ Another countered: ‘‘Against illegal immigration? Great! Go back to Europe!’’
‘‘This is a way of making our voices heard,’’ said Steve Prime, a resident of nearby Lake Elsinore. ‘‘The government’s main job is to secure our borders and protect us — and they’re doing neither.’’
Immigration supporters said migrating to survive is not a crime.
‘‘We’re celebrating the 4th of July and what a melting pot America is,’’ said Raquel Alvarado, a high school history teacher and Murrieta resident who chalked up the fear of migrants in the city of roughly 106,000 to discrimination.
‘‘They don’t want to have their kids share the same classroom,’’ she said.
Earlier this week, federal authorities had hoped to process immigrants at the station in Murrieta, about 55 miles north of downtown San Diego.
The city’s mayor, Alan Long, became a hero to those seeking stronger immigration policies with his criticism of the federal government’s efforts to handle the influx of thousands of immigrants, many of them mothers and children. However, Murrieta officials later tried to clarify Long’s comments, saying he was only asserting that the local Border Patrol station was not an appropriate location to process the migrants and was encouraging residents to contact their federal representatives.
In a July 3 statement, City Manager Rick Dudley expressed regret that the busloads of women and children had been forced to turn around.
Some local leaders said the outrage among some area residents was justified, given the already stressed social services infrastructure and the stagnant regional economy.
At the White House on Friday evening, Obama and his wife, Michelle, welcomed a larger group of service members, including the new citizens, to an all-American barbecue on the South Lawn, along with prime seating for the fireworks on the National Mall.
‘‘Together, all of you remind us that America is and always has been a nation of immigrants,’’ Obama told those at the naturalization ceremony.
The Fourth also marked Malia Obama’s 16th birthday.