By Frank James
In a sometimes defiant speech to a joint session of Congress, Mexican President Felipe Calderon challenged U.S. lawmakers on two of the most contentious issues in domestic politics, immigration overhaul and gun control.
With the recent passage of Arizona's anti-illegal immigration law as a backdrop, Calderon's message to Congress was that Mexico isn't the benighted, impoverished backwater that it's so often portrayed as when people on both sides of the border attempt to explain why so many Mexicans leave.
Instead, Calderon sought to depict Mexico as an up-and-coming nation in transition, with his government taking steps to improve its economy and the quality of life for average Mexicans.
He tried to counter the widespread belief in the U.S. that Mexico is encouraging illegal immigration into the U.S. so that all-important remittances can be sent back to his nation to buoy his economy by arguing that Mexico recognized it was losing some of its hardest workers and leaders to outmigration.
CALDERON: Members of the Congress. I'm not a president who likes to see Mexicans leave our country searching for opportunities abroad. With migration, our communities lose their best people. Hardest-working, the most dynamic. The leaders of the community. Each migrant who's a parent will never see his children again...
... Mexico is determined to assume its responsibility. For us, migration is not just your problem. We see migration as our problem as well. My government does not favor the breaking of the rules. I fully respect the right of any country to enact and enforce its own laws. But what we need today is to fix our broken and unefficient system.
We favor the establishment of laws that work and work well... So the time has come for the U.S. and Mexico to work together on this issue. The time has come to reduce the causes of this migration and to return this phenomenon to a legal, order(ly), secure flow of workers and visitors.
We want to provide the Mexican people with the opportunities they are looking for. That is our goal. That is our mission as government to transform Mexico in a land of opportunities, to provide to our people with jobs and opportunities to live and peace and to be happy...
I want to recognize the hard work and leadership in the Senate and in the House and of President Obama who are determined to find responsible and objective answers to this issue. I'm convinced that a comprehensive immigration reform is also crucial to securing our common borders.
However I strongly disagree with the recently adopted law in Arizona. (Applause and standing ovation from Democrats.) 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.
Clearly wanting to leave the message that Mexico had a number of reasons to take a back seat to the U.S., Calderon's speech had a few in-your-face moments.
For instance, in noting that Mexico is celebrating its bicentennial this year, he made sure to remind his listeners that Mexico was the first nation in the continental Americas to abolish slavery which happened in 1829. It took the U.S. the Civil War before slavery was abolished by the Thirteenth Amendment in 1865.
Looking at much more recent history, during a discussion of how Mexico had dealt with the economic recession, Calderon told U.S. lawmakers in a boast he knew they couldn't make: "...Thanks to strong regulations, not one cent from taxpayers went to a single bank in Mexico last year." That drew applause from some lawmakers.
On guns, Calderon made a frontal attack on assault weapons, chiding Congress for allowing the assault-weapons ban to expire in September 2004. He urged Congress to reinstate the ban. And he used the powerful motivator of fear to try and get Congress to act, saying that the gun violence Americans see reports of in Mexico, where criminal gangs with-high powered weapons take on police and the military could be the U.S. future.
CALDERON: I fully respect -- let me be clear on this. I fully respect -- I admire the American Constitution. And I understand that the purpose of the Second Amendment is to guarantee good American citizens the ability to defend themselves and their nation. (Applause.) But believe me, many of these guns are not going to honest American hands. Instead, thousands are ending up in the hands of criminals.
Just to give you an idea, we have seized 75,000 guns and assault weapons in Mexico in the last three years. And more than 80 percent of those we have been able to trace came from the United States -- from the United States.
And if you'll look carefully, you will notice that the violence in Mexico started to grow a couple of years before I took office, in 2006. This coincides with the lifting of the assault-weapons ban in 2004. One day, criminals in Mexico, having gained an access to these weapons, decided to challenge the authorities in my country. Today, these weapons are aimed by the criminals not only at rival gangs, but also at Mexican civilians and authorities.
With all due respect, if you do not regulate the sale of these weapons in the right way, nothing guarantees that criminals here in the United States with access to the same power of weapons will not decided (sic) to challenge American authorities and civilians. It is true the U.S. government is now carrying out operations against gun traffickers. But it's -- it is also true that there are more than 7,000 gun shops along the border with Mexico, where almost anyone can purchase these powerful weapons.
I also fully understand the political sensitivity of this issue. But I will ask Congress to help us, with respect, and to understand how important it is for us that you enforce current laws to stem the supply of these weapons to criminals and consider reinstating the assault-weapons ban. (Extended applause.)