Obama on Thanksgiving urges generosity to Syrian refugees

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Obama Tells Administration to Accept 10,000 Syrian Refugees



President Barack Obama urged Americans to show generosity to Syrian refugees in his Thanksgiving message on Thursday, reminding them that the Pilgrims who came to America in 1620 were themselves fleeing persecution.

"Nearly four centuries after the Mayflower set sail, the world is still full of pilgrims – men and women who want nothing more than the chance for a safer, better future for themselves and their families," Obama said in his address.

Obama's plan to accept 10,000 refugees from Syria became a lightning rod for political criticism after attacks, claimed by Islamic State militants, killed 130 people in Paris two weeks ago. The United States is leading an international coalition fighting the group in Syria and Iraq.

For more on this refugee crisis, scroll through the gallery below:

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Obama on Thanksgiving urges generosity to Syrian refugees
Syrian refugee child Jana Makkiyeh, 3, whose family comes from Damascus, Syria, holds a teddy bear while standing near her family's tent at a makeshift camp for asylum seekers in Roszke, southern Hungary, Thursday, Sept. 10, 2015. Leaders of the United Nations refugee agency warned Tuesday that Hungary faces a bigger wave of 42,000 asylum seekers in the next 10 days and will need international help to provide shelter on its border, where newcomers already are complaining bitterly about being left to sleep in frigid fields. (AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen)
A Syrian refugee woman and her daughter, right, sleep while waiting in a bus before being taken by Hungarian police to board a train to the Austrian border, in Roszke, southern Hungary, Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2015. With Hungary cracking down, desperate people fleeing Syria, Afghanistan and elsewhere struggled to make it into the country, hoping to reach Western Europe before it was too late. (AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen)
A young Syrian boy is wrapped with a thermal blanket as he arrives with others at the coast on a dinghy after crossing from Turkey, at the island of Lesbos, Greece, Monday, Sept. 7, 2015. The island of some 100,000 residents has been transformed by the sudden new population of some 20,000 refugees and migrants, mostly from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)
Afghan child Sohrab Naveed, 1, whose family comes from Kabul Afghanistan, is held by his mother while waiting with others to get into a bus that will take them to the center for asylum seekers, after crossing the Serbian-Hungarian border near Roszke, southern Hungary,Sunday, Sept. 13, 2015. At least four countries Friday firmly rejected a European Union plan to impose refugee quotas to ease a worsening migrant crisis that Germany's foreign minister said was "probably the biggest challenge" in the history of the 28-nation bloc. (AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen)
A Syrian boy tries to warm up himself near the border train station of Idomeni, northern Greece, as he waits with his family to be allowed by the Macedonian police to cross the borders on Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2015. Greece is Europe's main entry point for people arriving by sea, as the alternative route from north Africa to Italy has become increasingly dangerous due to fighting in Libya. From Greece, the migrants move north through the Balkans, hoping to gain asylum, preferably in Germany, the Netherlands or Scandinavia. (AP Photo/Giannis Papanikos)
Migrant and refugee children lie on the ground during a demonstration to protest against Turkish police blocking the access to the road and the ticket office for the Turkey-Greece border towns on September 15, 2015 at Istanbul's Esenler Bus Terminal. Over half a million migrants have crossed the European Union's border so far this year, up from 280,000 in 2014, the bloc's Frontex border agency said on September 15, 2015 -- but warned some people may have been counted twice. AFP PHOTO / YASIN AKGUL (Photo credit should read YASIN AKGUL/AFP/Getty Images)
ROSZKE, HUNGARY - SEPTEMBER 13: A young boy wraps up to keep warm as migrants wake up to a cold morning at the Hungarian border with Serbia on September 13, 2015 in Roszke, Hungary. A record number of 4,000 people crossed the Hungarian border with Serbia yesterday. Migrants are rushing to the border due to fears that the borders will soon close before the official closure of midnight on Monday, September 14th. Since the beginning of 2015 the number of migrants using the so-called 'Balkans route' has exploded with migrants arriving in Greece from Turkey and then travelling on through Macedonia and Serbia before entering the EU via Hungary. The number of people leaving their homes in war torn countries such as Syria, marks the largest migration of people since World War II. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
SANLIURFA, TURKEY - OCTOBER 28: (TURKEY OUT) Kurdish refugee children from the Syrian town of Kobani look on near makeshift tents in a camp in the southeastern town of Suruc, Sanliurfa province October 28, 2014. Kurdish fighters, supported by US-led air strikes, have fended off the Islamic State militants offensive into the besieged Syrian border town of Kobani for the last 44 days but remain ill equipped and short on ammunition. (Photo by Kutluhan Cucel/Getty Images)
ALEPPO, SYRIA - JULY 02: Mother of Syrian child refugee 8-year-old Ahmet Kedru, with partial thickness burns on the face, Aisha Kedru weeps as her son demands support for an aesthetic surgery from Turkish doctors to return to the old days on July 02, 2015 in Aleppo's district Azaz. When Ahmet and his family members were inside of a tent that they take shelter in at Azaz district, the tent is burned out. Fire damaged both him and his mother. (Photo by Kerem Kocalar/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Syrian refugees wait for transportation after crossing into Turkey from the Syrian town of Tal Abyad, near Akcakale in Sanliurfa province, on June 10, 2015. Thousands of people crossed from Syria into Turkey on June 10 to flee a battle pitting Islamist insurgents against Kurdish and opposition forces for the Syrian border town of Tel Abyad. AFP PHOTO/STR (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)
SANLIURFA, TURKEY - JUNE 06: A Turkish soldier carries a Syrian girl as she crosses into Turkey with her family from the borderline in Akcakale district of Sanliurfa on June 06, 2015. Hundreds of Syrians who fled from Syria after clashes between Syrian government forces and opponents in Rasulayn region of Al-Hasakah, have crossed into Turkey since Wednesday. (Photo by Halil Fidan/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
A Syrian refugee woman sits as a child sleeps near her early in the morning on Taksim Square, Istanbul, on May 26, 2015. Britain's David Cameron and Russia's Vladimir Putin have agreed to re-start talks on finding a solution to the crisis in Syria, a statement from Cameron said on May 25. AFP PHOTO/BULENT KILIC (Photo credit should read BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images)
A Syrian Kurdish boy peers as children take lessons on November 10, 2014 in a makeshift school tent in a refugee camp in the town of Suruc, Sanliurfa province. Turkey's maintained an 'open door' policy for all those fleeing Syria's civil war and there are now over 1.5 million Syrian refugees living in the country. More than 280,000 Syrian refugees are living in refugee camps, mostly in the southeast, according Turkey's Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD). AFP PHOTO / ARIS MESSINI (Photo credit should read ARIS MESSINIS/AFP/Getty Images)
Kurdish people watch the Syrian town of Kobane, also known as Ain al-Arab, from the Turkish border in the southeastern village of Mursitpinar, Sanliurfa province, on October 18, 2014. Turkey is turning a deaf ear to insistent pressure to take a more pro-active stance in the fight against Islamic State (IS) jihadists, adding to existing strains with the West under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Western diplomats have repeatedly made clear they want to see the key NATO member play a key role in the coalition against the militants, who are battling for the Syrian town Kobane just a few kilometers from Turkey. AFP PHOTO / ARIS MESSINIS (Photo credit should read ARIS MESSINIS/AFP/Getty Images)
A child cries as Syrian Kurdish people arrive after crossing the border between Syria and Turkey after several mortars hit both side in the southeastern town of Suruc, in the Sanliurfa province on September 29, 2014. Tens of thousands of Syrian Kurds flooded into Turkey fleeing an onslaught by the Islamic State (IS) group that prompted an appeal for international intervention. Some of the refugee now want to return to protect their homes and join the fight against IS militants. AFP PHOTO/BULENT KILIC (Photo credit should read BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images)
Refugees buy tickets at the port of Mitylene on the northeast Greek island of Lesbos to get on board a ferry traveling to Athens, on Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2015. This island of some 100,000 residents has been transformed by the sudden new population of some 20,000 refugees and migrants, mostly from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Santi Palacios)
Afghan refugees play with a baby at the port of Mitylene on the northeast Greek island of Lesbos while waiting to board a ferry traveling to Athens, on Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2015. The island of some 100,000 residents has been transformed by the sudden new population of some 20,000 refugees and migrants, mostly from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Santi Palacios)
A group of migrants scan the border area from an abandoned military watch post by the border between Serbia and Hungary, near the village of Horgos, Serbia, Friday, Aug. 28, 2015. Record numbers of migrants fleeing violence and poverty in countries such as Syria, Afghanistan and Eritrea are trying to reach Europe this year, despite the risks of perilous sea crossings and little humanitarian assistance. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)
Syrian refugees wait at the port of Lesbos island, Greece, to board a ferry traveling to Athens, on Monday, Sept. 7, 2015. The island of some 100,000 residents has been transformed by the sudden new population of some 20,000 refugees and migrants, mostly from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)
Eight-month-old Maria and her father Ibrahim from near of Damascus, Syria, look out of the window during their trip by train from Salzburg, Austria, in Munich, Austria, Saturday, Sept. 5, 2015. Since four month they are on their way from Syria via Budapest, Vienna to Germany. (AP Photo/ Kerstin Joensson)
In this photo taken on Monday, Aug. 31, 2015, Syrian men rest as they travel by train from Belgrade to the northern Serbian town of Subotica. The vast majority of migrants are from Syria and Afghanistan, reaching the eastern Aegean Greek islands from the nearby Turkish coast, before heading north to cross the border with Macedonia, Serbia and Hungary and onwards to more prosperous European countries. (AP Photo/Santi Palacios)
A migrant from Syria sleeps at a park in Belgrade, Serbia, Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2015. Thousands of migrants, including many women with babies and small children, have crossed into Serbia over the past few days and are heading toward Hungary and the E.U. (AP Photo/Marko Drobnjakovic)
A young migrant woman from Syria looks from a window onboard a train towards Serbia, at the new transit center for migrants on the border with Greece, near southern Macedonian town of Gevgelija, on Monday, Aug. 24, 2015. Thousands of migrants have poured into Macedonia and board trains and busses that are taking them a step closer to the European Union. Police are letting the migrants pass across the border Monday, directing them to the new transit center for migrants near the border line. (AP Photo/Boris Grdanoski)
Eight-month-old baby Nejmi, from Aleppo, Syria, sleeps on a sidewalk near Basmane train station in the coastal city of Izmir, Turkey, Saturday, Aug. 15, 2015. The migrants hope to make it to Greece in boats and eventually reach wealthier European countries north. (AP Photo/Sait Serkan Gurbuz)
A migrant from Syria waits at the port of Kos island, Greece, on Tuesday, June 2, 2015, after she and others were rescued by Greek Coast Guard while they were trying to cross from Turkey to Greece on a dinghy. Greece and Italy are the main points of entry into the European Union for refugees and economic migrants from the Middle East and Africa hoping to reach other European Union countries. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)
In this Thursday, Sept. 10, 2015 photo, a Jordanian soldier carries a Syrian child arriving in Jordanian territory in the Roqban reception point near the northeastern Jordanian border with Syria, and Iraq, near the town of Ruwaished, 240 km (149 miles) east of Amman. The commander of Jordan's Border Guard told The Associated Press that 199 refugees crossed from Syria into Jordan on Thursday. (AP Photo/Raad Adayleh)
In this Wednesday, July 22, 2015 photo, Syrian refugee Eidah Hassoun, 36, sits with her children inside their tent at an informal tented settlement near the Syrian border on the outskirts of Mafraq, Jordan. More than 10,000 children have died in Syria's four-year conflict, while over 2.8 million in and out of the country donât go to school, according to the U.N. children's agency, UNICEF. (AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen)
A Syrian refugee carries a baby after crossing over the broken border fence into Turkey from Syria in Akcakale, Sanliurfa province, southeastern Turkey, Sunday, June 14, 2015. The mass displacement of Syrians across the border into Turkey comes as Kurdish fighters and Islamic extremists clashed in nearby city of Tal Abyad. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
Under the watchful eye of Turkish soldiers, top, Syrian refugees are stuck after breaking the border fence and crossing into Turkey from Syria, in Akcakale, Sanliurfa province, southeastern Turkey, Sunday, June 14, 2015. The mass displacement of Syrians across the border into Turkey comes as Kurdish fighters and Islamic extremists clashed in nearby city of Tal Abyad. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
Syrian refugee children sit on the ground inside their tent home as they take their dinner at a Syrian refugee camp, in Deir Zannoun village in the Bekaa valley, eastern Lebanon, on Monday, Jan. 5, 2015. A snow storm is expected to hit Lebanon Monday affecting Syrian refugees, many of whom live in tents without heating. The government estimates there are about 1.5 million Syrians in Lebanon, about one-quarter of the total population. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)
A Syrian Kurdish refugee child from the Kobani area eats bread at a refugee camp in Suruc, near the Turkey-Syria border Wednesday, Nov. 5, 2014. Kobani, also known as Ayn Arab, and its surrounding areas, has been under assault by extremists of the Islamic State group since mid-September and is being defended by Kurdish fighters. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)
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Since the Paris attacks, Americans now identify terrorism as the most important problem facing the country, Reuters-Ipsos polling shows.

The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill to suspend the refugee plan and intensify refugee screening measures before lawmakers left Washington for the Thanksgiving break. Several Republican candidates for the November 2016 presidential election have also said the refugees pose a risk.

"People should remember that no refugee can enter our borders until they undergo the highest security checks of anyone traveling to the United States," Obama said in his address.

Obama has vowed to veto the House refugee bill. But the White House has said it is open to working with lawmakers on tighter security measures for visitors from 38 countries who do not need a visa for short visits to the United States.

In his address, Obama quoted from letters he had received from Americans welcoming Syrian refugees.

"One woman from Pennsylvania wrote me to say, 'Money is tight for us in my household ... But I have a guest room. I have a pantry full of food. We can do this,'" Obama said.

"Another woman from Florida told me her family's history dates back to the Mayflower - and she said that welcoming others is part of 'what it means to be an American,'" he said.


To see more on Obama throughout the years, scroll through the gallery below:
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44 behind-the-scenes images of Barack Obama's tenure as president
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Obama on Thanksgiving urges generosity to Syrian refugees
White House photographer Pete Souza took this photo of President-elect Barack Obama moments before Obama took the oath of office. (Photo by Pete Souza/The White House)

President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama shared a moment at the Inaugural Ball on January 20, 2009. (Photo by Pete Souza/The White House)

The next day, Obama entered the Oval Office to begin his first full day as America's 44th president. (Photo by Pete Souza/The White House)

Obama reads a letter that former President George W. Bush left for him in the Oval Office's resolute desk. Leaving a letter for the incoming president has become a White House tradition. (Photo by Pete Souza/The White House)

Obama toured the White House grounds with curator William Allman, chief usher Adm. Stephen Rochon, and presidential personal aide Reggie Love. (Photo by Pete Souza/The White House)

Here's a photo of Obama meeting with senior advisers in the Oval Office during the third week of his presidency. (Photo by Pete Souza/The White House)

Wearing an embroidered crew jacket, Obama waited for the first of many flights aboard Air Force One. (Photo by Pete Souza/The White House)

Obama gave his first State of the Union address on February 24, 2009. (Photo by Pete Souza/The White House)

The Obamas walked to Marine One on the South Lawn before heading off on one of their first trips to Camp David. (Photo by Pete Souza/The White House)

The Obamas were welcomed by Queen Elizabeth II to Buckingham Palace in London while in town for the G20 summit. (Photo by Pete Souza/The White House)

Obama gave a fist bump to a US soldier while visiting troops at Camp Victory in Iraq on April 7, 2009. (Photo by Pete Souza/The White House)

President Obama and Michelle smiled at each other inside a White House elevator after a Cinco de Mayo celebration. (Photo by Pete Souza/The White House)

Obama and Vice President Joe Biden practiced their putting skills on the White House green. (Photo by Pete Souza/The White House)

Obama tours the Pyramids of Giza in Egypt for the first time during his 11th presidential trip abroad. (Photo by Pete Souza/The White House)

In this July 2009 photo, Obama attended his first G8 summit, which was held in L'Aquila, Italy. (Photo by Pete Souza/The White House)

Over the summer of 2009, Obama visited the Grand Canyon in Arizona. (Photo by Pete Souza/The White House)

Obama laughed at a picture of himself during an interview on the "Late Show with David Letterman." (Photo by Pete Souza/The White House)

The Obamas welcomed children from local schools for Halloween festivities at the White House. (Photo by Pete Souza/The White House)

Obama was applauded by Nobel Committee Chairman Thorbjorn Jagland after receiving the Nobel Peace Prize on December 10, 2009. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

The Obamas posed for their first holiday portrait in front of the official White House Christmas tree. (Photo by Pete Souza/The White House)

At the beginning of the new year, White House photographer Pete Souza took this photo of Obama meeting with members of his cabinet. The president's chair is marked with a plaque engraved with his inauguration date. (Photo by Pete Souza/The White House)

The Obamas danced during the Governors' Ball held in the East Room of the White House. (Photo by Pete Souza/The White House)

Obama reads some documents while waiting for Marine One at the Westchester County Airport in New York. (Photo by Pete Souza/The White House)

Obama speaks with a congressman about the healthcare-reform bill. "In those final days before the vote, the President made hundreds of calls," wrote White House photographer Pete Souza. (Photo by Pete Souza/The White House)

Alongside White House staff and Vice President Joe Biden, Obama clapped while watching the historic House vote to pass the Affordable Care Act. (Photo by Pete Souza/The White House)

Obama boarded Air Force One while the sun set at Miami International Airport. (Photo by Pete Souza/The White House)

The Obamas pretended to sing with an a capella group after a holiday tour of the White House. (Photo by Pete Souza/The White House)

"A lighter moment during a meeting in the Situation Room of the White House," Souza wrote. (Photo by Pete Souza/The White House)

Obama shook hands with US soldiers at Bagram Airfield after an all-night, unannounced flight to Afghanistan in December 2010. (Photo by Pete Souza/The White House)

The Obamas stared at Rio de Janeiro's famous Christ the Redeemer statue while visiting Brazil in March 2011. (Photo by Pete Souza/The White House)

Obama saluted a Marine while walking toward Marine One helicopter on the South Lawn of the White House. (Photo by Pete Souza/The White House)

Taken on May 1, 2011, from the White House Situation Room, Obama's national-security team monitored the real-time mission against Osama bin Laden. Souza took approximately 100 photographs during this confidential meeting. (Photo by Pete Souza/The White House)

"The president was ready to announce the news about the mission against Osama bin Laden and was putting the finishing touches on his statement in the Outer Oval Office. As he did so, the networks broke in with bulletins confirming that bin Laden had been killed and a photograph of him appeared on the television screen in the background near the Vice President and Press Secretary Jay Carney," Souza wrote. (Photo by Pete Souza/The White House)

"One of the most memorable moments of the year was when the president hugged Rep. Gabrielle Giffords as he walked onto the floor of the House Chamber at the US Capitol to deliver his annual State of the Union address," Souza wrote in January 2012. Giffords was shot in a 2011 mass shooting in Arizona. (Photo by Pete Souza/The White House)
"The President hugs the first lady after she had introduced him at a campaign event in Davenport, Iowa. The campaign tweeted a similar photo from the campaign photographer on election night and a lot of people thought it was taken on election day," Souza wrote. When the campaign tweeted it on election night, it became the most retweeted photo of all time. (Photo by Pete Souza/The White House)
Obama kissed the first lady for the "kiss cam" during the US men's Olympic basketball team's game against Brazil in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Pete Souza/The White House)

Obama sang "Happy Birthday" to Michelle in the Blue Room of the White House in 2013. Her new hairstyle attracted a lot of attention. (Photo by Pete Souza/The White House)

In this photo, Obama sits in front of cameras taking images that will later make a 3D portrait for the Smithsonian Institution. (Photo by Pete Souza/The White House)

"We were at the NATO Summit in Wales when someone mentioned to the President that Stonehenge wasn't that far away. 'Let's go,' he said. So when the Summit ended, we took a slight detour on the way back to Air Force One," Souza wrote in September 2014. (Photo by Pete Souza/The White House)

Obama laughed as he and Michelle recorded a holiday video message in the Map Room of the White House. (Photo by Pete Souza/The White House)

This March 2015 photo shows Obama delivering remarks during an event to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of Bloody Sunday and the Selma to Montgomery civil-rights marches. (Photo by Pete Souza/The White House)
Obama shook hands with President Raúl Castro of Cuba during the Summit of the Americas on April 11, 2015. The US and Cuba have moved toward a historic thaw in relations over the past year. (Photo by Pete Souza/The White House)
Vice President Joe Biden announced he would not seek the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination in October, as Obama stood by his side during an appearance in the Rose Garden of the White House. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

In this November 2015 photo, Obama collects a folder holding the bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 after signing it into law in the Oval Office. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

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