Amid intensifying domestic debate over whether the United States should accept Syrian refugees, President Barack Obama urged Americans to lend a helping hand to those fleeing war and persecution at the hands of militants such as the Islamic State group. In a Thanksgiving address, the U.S. president likened the plight of these refugees to that of the Pilgrims who came to America in 1620.

“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, referring to the ship that carried the refugees -- known as the Pilgrims -- from Plymouth, England, to the New World.

“What makes America America is that we offer that chance. We turn Lady Liberty's light to the world, and widen our circle of concern to say that all God's children are worthy of our compassion and care," Obama added.

In September, after criticism his government was not doing its part in tackling the burgeoning refugee crisis in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, Obama announced the U.S. would accept 10,000 refugees. However, following the Paris attacks, several U.S. governors, congressional Republicans and 2016 presidential candidates have doubled down on their criticism of the plan, citing reports that the Paris attackers entered France disguised as refugees.

Earlier this month, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill to suspend the refugee plan and intensify screening measures. Obama, however, has vowed to veto the bill.

“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 in his Thanksgiving address.

“People should remember that no refugee can enter our borders until they undergo the highest security checks of anyone traveling to the United States. That was the case before Paris, and it's the case now.”