President Felipe Calderon of Mexico arrived at the White House yesterday and almost without pause punctured the pomp and ceremony with a blunt rebuke of a new Arizona law that makes it a crime under state law to be on the north side of the border without proper documentation.
"Such laws as the Arizona law [are] forcing our people to face discrimination," he said before face-to-face talks with President Barack Obama. "If we are divided, we cannot overcome these problems."
At a joint press conference later, Mr Obama acknowledged his own concerns that the law, which has led at least 10 major US cities including Los Angeles to boycott Arizona, could lead to racial discrimination. He characterised it as a "misdirected expression of frustration over our broken immigration system". He took the chance to appeal to Republicans on Capitol Hill to clear the log-jam in passing immigration reform.
Last night, Mr Obama hosted only the second state dinner of his presidency for his Mexican guests. Relations between the two countries have warmed up since Mr Obama took office, not least because of his willingness to acknowledge that the US has a part in the biggest crisis facing Mr Calderon: tackling the drug barons and quelling the violence that his war on them has triggered.
The drug trade, Mr Obama said yesterday, is "not just a problem in Mexico. It is a problem that the United States has to address". He said that the US is taking steps both to shut down the market for illegal drugs, notably cocaine, within its own borders and also to try to impede the flow of guns and other weapons south into Mexico and into the hands of the drug cartels.
The Justice Department has been asked by Mr Obama to investigate the Arizona immigration law's legality under the constitution. It remains highly popular, however, with polls showing twice as many American supporting the step taken by Arizona rather than disapproving of it.
But Mr Calderon said cooperating on border and immigration issues was the best way forward. "We can do so if we create a safer border, a border that will unite us instead of dividing us, uniting our people," he declared. "We can do so with a community that will promote a dignified life in an orderly way for both our countries."
The chances of Congress passing immigration reform this year remain slim. Mr Obama is nonetheless pushing it as one of his top priorities, proposing a blend of steps to make the borders tougher to breach but laying out a path for illegal aliens who are already in the country eventually to attain citizenship. He insisted last night, however, that they should "learn English and get to the back of the line".Reuse content