WASHINGTON (CNN) — President Barack Obama hopes to put a human face on the heated political debate over immigration on Friday when he oversees a naturalization ceremony for members of the military.
In what’s become a White House tradition, Obama will host immigrants who signed up to serve in the military, or whose spouses enlisted, and watch as they’re sworn in as American citizens.
The roster includes 15 active duty members, two veterans, one reservist and seven military spouses.
Earlier in the week, Obama praised service members who signed up to defend a country where they weren’t citizens.
“Some of the service members coming this year are unique because they signed up to serve, to sacrifice, potentially to give their lives for the security of this country even though they weren’t yet Americans,” he said.
“That’s how much they love this country. They were prepared to fight and die for an America they did not yet fully belong to. I think they’ve earned their stripes in more ways than one,” he said.
The President has hosted naturalization ceremonies for military families in four of his five years in the White House.
Friday’s event, however, comes amid a fiery debate among lawmakers over immigration reform and border security, spurred in part by an influx of immigrant children arriving in the United States without their parents.
Obama has vowed to follow the law in deporting the children, who officials say are fleeing violence in the Central American nations of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador.
The White House says the situation underscores the need to fix a broken immigration system, including calling for the passage of a comprehensive package of reforms approved by the Senate last year.
That measure has stalled in the Republican-controlled House, leading Obama this week to announce he was planning to take executive action to make some changes on his own.
Officials haven’t previewed what specific actions Obama may take, though the Department of Homeland Security is currently reviewing its deportation policy to locate ways to make it more “humane.”
That could include extending a deferred deportation rule Obama signed in 2012 for young immigrants brought here by their families.
Former President George W. Bush signed an executive order in 2002 allowing for expedited naturalization for immigrant servicemen and women who enlisted after September 11, 2001.
Since then, more than 90,000 military members have become citizens, along with some of their children and spouses.
Obama’s Independence Day continues later in the evening with a party on the South Lawn for military families that features a performance by Pitbull and a prime viewing spot for fireworks on the National Mall.