Published May 20, 2010
WASHINGTON -- As Mexican President Felipe Calderon ripped Arizona's new law clamping down on illegal immigrants in front of Congress on Thursday, Democrats and White House officials rose to their feet to cheer, including Attorney General Eric Holder and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano -- two officials who have confessed to not even reading the law.
And that isn't sitting well with officials from states along the border.
"It was extremely disappointing to have a foreign head of state on the floor of the U.S. Congress exhibiting willful ignorance" over the new law, Arizona House Speaker Kirk Adams told Fox News.
"But I'll tell you what's even more galling is to have members of the White House staff standing and applauding something that is absolutely wrong," he said. "Arizona's law does not introduce racial profiling. Quite the contrary."
Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, the ranking Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, said "those who encourage criticism of the Arizona law are on the wrong side of the American people."
"When you peel back the inflammatory rhetoric and the baseless accusations of those who oppose the Arizona law, you find that Arizona has taken a reasonable, constitutional approach to dealing with a problem that the federal government hasn't," he said.
Despite confessing to not reading the law, Holder and Napolitano are among those who have criticized it, saying the law would promote racial profiling and may be unconstitutional.
In the first address to Congress by a foreign national leader this year, Calderon delivered a message Thursday that the two countries must cooperate to improve security along the often-violent border and control the flow of immigrants into the United States.
While Republican lawmakers welcomed Calderon's call for improved relations between the two countries, they jeered his lecture on how to fix the U.S. immigration system and his criticism of Arizona's new law.
"I think it's inappropriate for him to come in and criticize our law," Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, told Fox News. "When we go down to Mexico, we don't do that to the Mexicans."
"The Arizona law is not the problem," he added. "The problem is the growing violence down the border and securing the border and the Obama administration enforcing federal law."
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, the ranking member on the Judiciary Committee's immigration, refugees and border security subcommittee, said it was "inappropriate" for Calderon to "lecture Americans on our own state and federal laws."
"Arizona's immigration law has been amended to make clear it does not authorize racial profiling by law enforcement," he said.
In his remarks Thursday, Calderon said he is "convinced comprehensive immigration reform is crucial to securing our border."
"But I strongly disagree with the recently adopted law in Arizona," he said. "It's a law that not only ignores reality, but also introduces racial profiling as a basis for law enforcement."
Calderon said his "government does not favor the breaking of the rules" and that he respects the right of any country to "enact and enforce its own laws."
"But what we need today is to fix a broken and inefficient system," he said. "We favor the establishment of laws that work and work well for all."
Smith said he was "disappointed that President Calderon did not use this opportunity before us to talk about what more Mexico will do to discourage illegal immigration and improve conditions so that good, hardworking Mexican citizens will want to stay home instead of coming to America."
"The economic and tax reforms that President Calderon discussed are important, but they are not enough to curb the flow of illegal immigration," he said in a written statement. "Instead, President Calderon continues to mischaracterize and criticize domestic policies of the United States. It is not right for the president of another country to come here and criticize our nation or our states for wanting to stop human smuggling and drug trafficking, or secure our border."
Calderon's state visit comes at a time of renewed furor over the flawed immigration system from Mexico into the United States. From border security troubles to questions about how to deal with the millions of illegal migrants living in the United States, the immigration debate remains politically vexing, frustrating and volatile.
Obama is lobbying lawmakers to get moving on legislation that would seek to deal with the security, employment and citizenship issues at once. He concedes, however, that he does not yet have the Republican support he would need to get such a complex deal done. Whether any progress will happen this year is unclear.
Stoking the matter is a new law approved by Arizona lawmakers and set to take effect July 29 unless derailed by legal challenges. It requires police, in the context of enforcing other laws, to question people about their immigration status if there is reason to suspect they are in the United States illegally.
Calderon calls that discriminatory, and Obama agrees the Arizona law could well be applied that way. He has ordered a Justice Department review.
Calderon also told Congress Thursday that the fight against narcotics traffickers along the border can only succeed if the United States reduces its demand for illegal drugs. Calderon called on Congress to reinstate the assault weapons ban. "The Second Amendment is not a subject open for diplomatic negotiation, with Mexico or any other nation," Cornyn said.
He said the United States must stop the flow of assault weapons and other arms across the border.
The Mexican leader found an ally at the White House Wednesday, where Obama is pressing lawmakers to take up legislation that would deal with security, employment and citizenship issues.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.