Obama defends immigration as America’s ‘oldest tradition’

WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama launched a full-throated defense of open immigration policies Tuesday, hailing it as America’s ”oldest tradition” amid a fierce election-fueled row over tighter rules.

Hours before Republican candidates held a security-focused final presidential debate of the year, Obama told 31 newly naturalized Americans that fair immigration was the touchstone of their adoptive country.

”Just about every nation in the world, to some extent, accepts immigrants,” Obama said. ”But there is something unique about America.”

Obama — speaking in the National Archives rotunda, flanked by the US Constitution, Bill of Rights and Declaration of Independence — said America does not ”simply welcome” new arrivals.

”We are born of immigrants, that is who we are, immigration is our origin story.”

”For more than two centuries it’s remained at the core of our national character, it’s our oldest tradition, it’s who we are, it’s part of what makes us exceptional.”

The campaign to succeed Obama has been marked by tough talk against migrants, not least from Republican frontrunner Donald Trump.

The real estate mogul-turned-politician has vowed to ban Muslims from entering the country and to deport illegal migrants from Latin America.

The debate has taken on a rougher edge in the wake of the terror attacks in Paris and California.

The shooting in San Bernardino that killed 14 Americans was carried out by US-born Syed Farook and his Pakistani wife Tashfeen Malik, who arrived in the United States on a fiancee visa.

The White House has agreed to look again at some visa procedures, but insists that refugees in particular are well vetted and have not proven a threat.

Obama — who himself has lived outside the United States and is the son of a migrant father from Kenya and a mother who lived in Indonesia — has bristled at efforts to curb the flow of migrants. (AFP)