[WASHINGTON] US President Barack Obama on Thursday urged Americans to open their hearts to refugees in his Thanksgiving message to the nation, likening them to the pilgrims the holiday celebrates.
"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 weekly address, referring to the boat on which the first pilgrims reached the New World.
Thanksgiving was first celebrated by the group who fled religious persecution in England. For many Americans, it has become a family-oriented holiday marked with an enormous meal of roast turkey and a slice or two of pie.
"I've been touched by the generosity of the Americans who've written me letters and emails in recent weeks, offering to open their homes to refugees fleeing the brutality of ISIL," Obama said, using an acronym for the Islamic State group.
The refugee question has taken center stage in the 2016 presidential race, following the Paris attacks staged by Syria-linked jihadists this month.
The shootings and suicide bombings stirred fears in North America and Europe that jihadists could seek to blend in with refugees in order to strike later.
Obama faces a barrage of opposition to his own plan to resettle Syrian 10,000 refugees in the United States in the coming year.
"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.
"That was the case before Paris, and it's the case now." Obama also reminded listeners that Thanksgiving was not just an opportunity for people to give thanks for their personal blessings.
"On this uniquely American holiday, we also remember that so much of our greatness comes from our generosity," he said.