Mexican President To U.S. Congress: Fix Border Policy

Mexican President Felipe Calderon addressed a joint session of Congress on Thursday, and urged U.S. lawmakers to overhaul the immigration system and consider reinstating a ban on assault rifles.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

Mexican president Felipe Calderon is appealing for the overhaul of U.S. immigration laws and tighter rules on assault rifles. He took that message today to the people who might do something about it when he spoke to a joint meeting of Congress.

NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN: A day after he was wined and dined at the White House, Felipe Calderon got a warm welcome in Congress, at least when he was talking tough about battling Mexico's drug cartels.

President FELIPE CALDERON (Mexico): One of the main changes taking place in Mexico is our commitment to firmly establish the rule of law. That is why we are deploying the full force of the state to confront organized crime with determination and courage.

(Soundbite of applause)

KELEMEN: The room split along party lines, though, when he started talking about some of the help he needs from Congress. Calderon says he's worried about the flow of guns from the U.S. to Mexico. And he told lawmakers that the violence started to increase in his country soon after an assault rifle ban expired in the U.S. in 2004.

Pres. CALDERON: I will ask Congress to help us with respect, and to understand how important it is for us that you enforce current laws to stamp the supply of these weapons to criminals and consider reinstating the assault weapons ban.

(Soundbite of applause)

KELEMEN: Only the Democrats and the large Mexican contingent stood up to applaud that line. The speech was not particularly well attended by members of Congress. Staffers in navy suits filled up all the empty seats, including several rows in the Republican section. And Calderon managed to split the crowd again on the need to fix what he called a broken immigration system.

Pres. CALDERON: I am convinced that a comprehensive immigration reform is also crucial to securing our common border. However, I strongly disagree with the recently adopted law in Arizona.

KELEMEN: He said the law could lead to racial profiling by police who would have the authority to detain people suspected of being in the U.S. illegally. Though the Mexican president raised those concerns a lot on this trip, and he got a sympathetic hearing from President Obama, the Justice Department has yet to weigh in. And as for immigration reform, President Obama acknowledges this will be a difficult time politically to get something done.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

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