Treasury Secretary Jack Lew congratulated new U.S. citizens at a naturalization ceremony for their “extraordinary accomplishment,” telling the honorees that their citizenship “took hard work” since “nobody gave this to you.”
Lew then praised the Senate immigration reform bill for offering citizenship to individuals living in the U.S. illegally.
“I stand here as a first-generation American and as secretary of the Treasury of the United States. This is something that my parents could never have foreseen half a century ago,” Lew said at the Department of Treasury in the Cash Room on Wednesday.
“Each of you has taken a separate journey, and each of you has your own story of challenges overcome. It took incredible resolve to become an American citizen. You had to work for it. Nobody gave this to you.”
In keeping with the “no one gave this to you” theme of his remarks, Lew highlighted some of the new U.S. citizens’ stories.
“No one gave this to Hazrat Khan, who came here from Afghanistan and has devoted his career to helping vulnerable people around the world withstand political conflict and natural disasters,” Lew said.
“No one gave this to Mahad Abdille. He fled war-torn Somalia when he was 16 years old without knowing a word of English. But he seized the chance to rebuild his life by learning the language of his new country, making friends and finding work.”
Following these examples, Lew made a pitch for support of the immigration bill passed by the Senate last week, which legalizes millions of illegal immigrants, as helpful for the economy.
“There’s a bipartisan immigration bill before Congress that would fix our broken immigration system. This comprehensive legislation does a number of things. It strengthens our borders. It provides a pathway to earn citizenship for the 11 million people who are here illegally and it will boost economic growth,” Lew said.
“The bill would drive growth by bringing highly skilled scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs to the United States. At the same time the bill would create a new wave of consumers, who will fuel demand and generate economic activity. The effect will be enormous: more new businesses, more new jobs and more exports.”
Lew encouraged those at the ceremony who went through the current immigration process legally to “make sure” the “door” they walked through remains “open” to all immigrants who want to become Americans.
“According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, this legislation will lower our deficits by nearly a trillion dollars over the next two decades. So it’s important for our economy and for who we are as people that we reform our immigration system,” said Lew.
“And I hope that as new citizens, you will make sure that the door you just walked through be — remain open to the millions of hardworking immigrants who want to call America home.”
On July 4th, Lew said Americans will be “celebrating the millions of immigrants who have been the lifeblood of this country.”
The former White House Chief of Staff specifically named “Alfred Mullett, the architect of this beautiful room, and Alexander Hamilton, the architect of our economy.”
The Department of Homeland Security defines naturalized citizens as “foreign nationals who have become citizens of the United States after fulfilling requirements established by Congress in the Immigration and Nationality Act.”