WASHINGTON • United States President Barack Obama yesterday delivered a Thanksgiving message in which he compared modern refugees to the pilgrims the holiday celebrates, urging Americans to open their arms to the potential immigrants.
His speech came as New York officials said about 3.5 million spectators would turn out for the city's signature Thanksgiving Day parade, in its 89th year, and they urged residents and visitors to carry on with holiday plans, saying there were no credible threats to the city.
"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," Mr Obama said in his weekly address, referring to the boat on which the pilgrims arrived in the New World.
Thanksgiving was first celebrated by the group after fleeing religious persecution in England. For many Americans, it has become a family oriented day marked with an enormous meal of roast turkey, an assortment of side dishes and a slice or two of pie.
"I've been touched by the generosity of the Americans who've written me letters and e-mails in recent weeks, offering to open their homes to refugees fleeing the brutality of ISIL," Mr Obama said, referring to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group.
Immigration has taken centre stage as an important issue ahead of the presidential race next year but reached fever pitch following the deadly Paris attacks earlier this month.
The shootings and suicide bombings have stirred fears in North America and Europe that extremists could seek to blend in with refugees in order to strike later.
Mr Obama himself faces a barrage of opposition to his own plan to resettle 10,000 refugees in the coming year.
"People should remember that no refugee can enter our borders until they undergo the highest security checks of anyone travelling to the United States," Mr Obama said. "That was the case before Paris, and it's the case now."
Mr 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.
Record crowds were expected to swarm Manhattan sidewalks and rooftops yesterday to watch the marching bands, floats and massive balloons of Macy's annual Thanksgiving Day Parade, held under tight security.
"I encourage people to come out. This is a way to push back on events around the world that are meant to intimidate," Police Commissioner William Bratton said at a press conference on Wednesday in Manhattan.
The Department of Homeland Security said last week there was no credible threat of an attack on the US of the type that occurred in Paris. The New York Police Department is ramping up parade security, adding members of a new counter-terrorism unit, officials said.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS