Washington, 11 July 2001 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. President George Bush says his administration will dedicate $500 million over five years to speed up processing of immigrant applications.
Bush made the announcement Tuesday (11 July) while attending a naturalization ceremony on Ellis Island in New York Harbor. It was known as the gateway to America for millions of immigrants who were processed there between 1892 and 1924. It is now a museum.
U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, who accompanied Bush on the trip, told the audience on Ellis Island that 100 million Americans "can draw a straight line from the life they know today to a moment in this hall, when a name was called and a person took the first step toward citizenship in the United States of America."
Bush said the money is designed to speed up immigration application procedures, which sometimes take as much as four years, to be accomplished within a six-month timetable. He said Americans are a welcoming society.
"America, at its best, is a welcoming society. We welcome not only immigrants themselves but the many gifts they bring and the values they live by."
In his remarks Bush added:
"Hundreds of thousands of immigrants take the oath of citizenship every year. Each has come not only to take but to give. They come asking for a chance to work hard, support their families, and to rise in the world. And together they make our nation more, not less, American."
In addition to the money, Bush promised to help change the sometimes unfriendly attitude towards immigrants on the part of those in the U.S. government who handle the processing. Said Bush:
"Immigration is not a problem to be solved. It is the sign of a confident and successful nation. And people who seek to make America their home should be met in that spirit by representatives of our government. New arrivals should be greeted not with suspicion and resentment but with openness and courtesy."
Ellis Island, sometimes also known as the Island of Tears for those who were turned away at the last moment, was proclaimed part of the Statue of Liberty National Monument in 1965 by President Lyndon B. Johnson. After a six-year, $170 million restoration, it was reopened as a museum.
Literature on the museum's website says that from 1892 to 1924, more than 22 million immigrants, passengers, and crew members came through Ellis Island and the Port of New York. The ship companies that transported these passengers kept detailed passenger lists. Now these lists, among other details, can be searched on the internet (http://www.ellisisland.org/search/index.asp).
Artifacts, historic photographs and documents, oral histories, and ethnic music depicting 400 years of American immigration are housed in the museum. An electronic database holds more than 600,000 names.
At the ceremony, Bush looked on as 29 people from various nations, including Poland, Algeria, Israel, and Britain, became U.S. citizens. He said:
"My fellow Americans who stand behind us, congratulations. [Applause.] Just a few minutes ago, I was the leader of another country. Now it's my honor to speak to you as the leader of your country. And the great thing about America is, you don't have to listen unless you want to."
Bush led the group in the Pledge of Allegiance, mistakenly instructing the people to raise their right hands instead of placing them over their hearts, as is customary.