Mexican President Felipe Calderon took his opposition to a new Arizona immigration law to Congress Thursday, saying it “ignores a reality that cannot be erased by decree.”
Calderon’s comments on the Arizona law and his request that Congress do something about the availability of high-powered weapons along the border drew criticism from several lawmakers saying he was interfering in U.S. internal matters.
The Mexican leader also told lawmakers reluctant to take up the immigration issue this year that comprehensive immigration reform is crucial to securing the two countries’ common border.
Calderon, the first foreign national leader to address Congress this year, said he strongly disagrees with the Arizona law that requires police to question people about their immigration status if there’s reason to suspect they are in the country illegally.
“It is a law that not only ignores a reality that cannot be erased by decree but also introduces a terrible idea using racial profiling as a basis for law enforcement,” he said to cheers, mainly from the Democratic side of the chamber.
Speaking in English, he warned of the risk when “core values we all care about are breached.”
Arizona’s senior Republican senator, John McCain was not present at the joint meeting, while the office of Jon Kyl, the other Arizona senator, did not respond immediately to inquiries about whether Kyl was present. McCain attended a lunch with Calderon at the State Department Wednesday.
McCain issued a statement that it was “unfortunate and disappointing the president of Mexico chose to criticize the state of Arizona by weighing in on a U.S. domestic policy issue during a trip that was meant to reaffirm the unique relationship between our two countries.”
And broaching another highly sensitive issue, Calderon urged Congress to restore a ban on assault weapons, saying easy access to high-powered weapons is contributing to drug-related violence along the border.
Calderon also took up the Arizona law in a meeting Wednesday with President Barack Obama, who referred to the law as a “misdirected expression of frustration.”
The Mexican leader said his country was doing its best, by promoting more jobs and opportunities at home, to reduce the flow of immigrants to the United States.
But he stressed the “need to fix a broken and inefficient system … the time has come to reduce the causes of migration and to turn this phenomenon into a legal, ordered and secure flow of workers and visitors.”
Obama is pressing lawmakers to take up legislation that would deal with border security, employment and citizenship. It is questionable whether Congress, in an election year, has an inclination to tackle such a highly sensitive issue.
Calderon also got a standing ovation from Democrats when he asked the United States to stop the flow of assualt weapons and other arms across the border and reinstate the ban on many assault weapons that was enacted in 1994 but allowed to expire during the George W. Bush presidency.
He said there are more than 7,000 gun shops along the border where almost anyone can purchase weapons.
Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn said it was inappropriate for Calderon to lecture Americans on state and local law. He defended the Arizona law and added: “moreover, the Second Amendment is not a subject open for diplomatic negotiation, with Mexico or any other nation.”
Calderon led off his 40-minute speech by emphasizing Mexico’s war against narcotics traffickers that has left roughly 23,000 dead since the end of 2006.
But he added that “we cannot ignore the fact that the challenge to our security has roots on both sides of the border.” He cited a statement from Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton that, At the end of the day, it is high demand for drugs in the United States and elsewhere that drives much of the illicit trade.
Also attending the speech were Attorney General Eric Holder, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.
Democrats gave Calderon a rousing cheer when he said Mexico planned to have universal health care by 2012 and said that would be one less reason for Mexicans to migrate to the United States. He got smiles and applause from Republicans, as well as Democrats, when he said that in Mexico’s efforts to recover from the recession no taxpayer money went to bail out banks.
Calderon broke into Spanish briefly to address Mexicans now living in the United States, saying Mexicans admire and miss them and are working to protect their rights.