Mexican President to Meet with Schwarzenegger

Mexican President Felipe Calderon is on the last leg of a U.S. visit. He'll meet with California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Wednesday and address the state's Legislature. Immigration will be a top issue of discussion.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

The president of Mexico has crossed the border. Felipe Calderon is in California today. He'll meet with Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and address the state legislature. He has already seen other governors and talked with hundreds of his Mexican compatriots. He is trying to deal with what he sees as an increasingly hostile atmosphere toward illegal immigrants here in the United States. But even though this is Calderon's first visit to the U.S. as president, he is not meeting with President Bush or any of the presidential candidates.

NPR's Carrie Kahn has more.

CARRIE KAHN: He may not be stopping in Washington. Official word is the two presidents' schedules couldn't be worked out. But Caldron's agenda has been full. He's scheduled more than 30 events in five days. The majority, however, have been behind closed doors or invitation-only, like yesterday's event in a packed high school gymnasium in Chicago full of pro-Calderon Mexican Nationals. Calderon is known as a skilled politician and as he has done throughout his U.S. visit, he stayed on message, condemning what he says is the increasingly hostile environment toward illegal Mexican immigrants in the U.S. while in the next breath accepting responsibility for conditions in Mexico that push his countrymen north.

President FELIPE CALDERON (Mexico): (Spanish spoken)

KAHN: The circumstances here are tough, Calderon said, but we will confront them with you. He then went on to list several political and economic reforms he's working on to bolster Mexico's economy and quality of life. Calderon walked that political fine line again when addressing border security.

President CALDERON: (Spanish spoken)

KAHN: The Mexico government is committed to working for a secure border, he said, even empathizing with Americans' security fears. But Calderon said to resounding applause that Mexican migrants don't put the U.S. at risk. Organized crime does.

President CALDERON: (Spanish spoken)

KAHN: Calderon had made combating Mexico's notorious drug cartels a major priority of his administration. Since taking power a little more than a year ago, he's extradited more narco-kingpins to the U.S. than his predecessor did during six years in office.

Ms. DENISE DRESSER (Columnist, Reforma) I think Calderon is by nature a cautious politician. He tends to take the safe route.

KAHN: Denise Dresser, a political columnist from Mexico's influential Reforma newspaper, says Calderon knows it's better to focus on the fight against drug traffickers and push for foreign investment in Mexico than to dwell on immigration issues and risk bad press.

Ms. DRESSER: He is certainly not going to put the immigration issue on the table at a time when it would be politically counterproductive to do so.

KAHN: Calderon's style is very different from former Mexican President Vicente Fox's. Fox was often at odds with U.S. lawmakers and the Bush administration over illegal immigration. Political analyst David Ayon says that while Calderon isn't as strident as Fox was, that doesn't mean he won't push state officials behind closed doors to counter what he sees as growing anti-Mexican rhetoric.

Mr. DAVID AYON (Political Analyst): There, he may choose to be quite explicit and to press his case and to say, look, we would be very happy if you would help change the tone of the debate.

KAHN: That's precisely what Governor Schwarzenegger would like to do, says his spokeswoman, Sabrina Demayo Lockhart.

Ms. SABRINA DEMAYO LOCKHART (Schwarzenegger Spokesperson): The governor will use this as an opportunity to continue to urge Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform that protects our borders.

KAHN: Calderon's decision not to schedule meetings with any of the U.S. presidential candidates was in keeping with his efforts to make his first U.S. visit as president low-key. He wouldn't even answer reporters' questions about whom he supports, but he will get some one-on-one time with several of the candidates' surrogates. Schwarzenegger is a big supporter of Republican John McCain and L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who Calderon will visit tonight, is the national co-chair in the campaign of Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Carrie Kahn, NPR News.

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