Immigration Tops Issues During Calderon Visit

Mexican President Felipe Calderon addresses a joint meeting of Congress Thursday. He'll talk with lawmakers about immigration, drug violence, and other challenges facing the U.S. and Mexico alike. Calderon met with President Obama on Wednesday, and those same issues came up.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Also on Capitol Hill this morning, the President of Mexico is addressing a joint meeting of Congress. The focus of his message - immigration, drug violence, and other challenges facing the U.S. and Mexico. President Felipe Calderon spent yesterday with President Obama at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue.

NPR White House correspondent Ari Shapiro has our story.

ARI SHAPIRO: All over the White House grounds, Mexican and American flags waved together, announcing that this was not a typical day. The arrival ceremony was full of bold images. Bands played, cannons fired, school children waved, and people in uniform marched in formation.

(Soundbite of music)

SHAPIRO: After President and Mrs. Obama greeted the Mexican delegation, each president made brief comments. In a moment typically reserved for platitudes, Calderon was more pointed.

Listen first to how President Obama gingerly addressed immigration. He said the United States values family.

President BARACK OBAMA: Mexican-American families have been here for centuries, as well as those who continue to - our proud tradition as a nation of immigrants, all of whom strengthen our American family and who join us today.

SHAPIRO: Calderon was more direct. Speaking through a translator, he called for a border that will unite us rather than divide us.

President FELIPE CALDERON: (Through translator) We can do so with a community that will promote a dignified life in an orderly way for both our countries, who are some of them still living here in the shadows with such laws as the Arizona law that is placing our people to face discrimination.

SHAPIRO: It was a patchy translation, but it was the first of many times Arizona would come up by name. A law that goes into effect there in July makes being in the country without papers a criminal violation of state law.

President Obama has called the law misguided. During a Rose Garden press conference later in the day, Mr. Obama was asked whether he agrees with Calderon that the law is discriminatory.

President OBAMA: I think the Arizona law has the potential of being applied in a discriminatory fashion.

SHAPIRO: He said a fair reading of the statute might allow the harassment or arrest of people suspected of being illegal immigrants.

President OBAMA: What I've directed my Justice Department to do is to look very carefully at the language of this law, to see whether it comports both with our core values and existing legal standards as well as the fact that the federal government is ultimately the one charged with immigration policy.

SHAPIRO: But Mr. Obama did not guarantee any federal intervention, and it may be difficult for the Justice Department to act. A department memo from 2002 says state police officers have inherent power to arrest undocumented immigrants for violating federal law. It was written by the same man who crafted some of the most controversial memos defining torture during the Bush administration.

President Obama said Arizona's law is an understandable reaction to the federal government's failure to fix immigration. And he repeated his call for Congress to pass a comprehensive immigration law.

The day's other main topic was violence. Mexico's drug wars have killed thousands of people, and Mr. Obama said the U.S. must take some responsibility.

President OBAMA: U.S. demand for drugs helps to drive this public safety crisis within Mexico.

SHAPIRO: And he said the U.S. is fueling the violence in other ways too.

President OBAMA: The second aspect of this that we have to deal with is the southbound flows from the United States of both weapons and cash that helps to empower these drug cartels.

SHAPIRO: The men also talked about climate change and trade between the two countries. And after a day of meetings, the Obamas hosted the Calderons at the White House for the second state dinner of the Obama presidency. Security was heightened to prevent a recurrence of the party crashing incident that marred the first such dinner last year.

Ari Shapiro, NPR News, the White House.

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