SACRAMENTO – Mexican President Felipe Calderon on Wednesday acknowledged tensions between the U.S. and Mexico over illegal immigration but stressed that both countries have an interest in ensuring their citizens can cross the border legally and safely.
Addressing a joint session of the California Legislature, Calderon said the economies of the two countries are interdependent. For that reason, there must be "shared responsibility" for immigration on both sides of the border.
"I know that immigration is a controversial issue today in this great nation. But I strongly believe that Mexican and Mexican-American workers are a large reason for the dynamic economy of California," he said in prepared remarks.
"Our nations will never find prosperity by closing their doors."
Calderon, who was making his first visit to the U.S. since winning office, said Mexico had taken steps to strengthen security at the border and improve its economy.
He said the government has stepped up law enforcement against drug traffickers and organized crime. Calderon cited the seizure of large amounts of cocaine and cash, which has driven up the price of drugs in America by nearly 50 percent last year.
The government also has reformed the country's tax and pension systems, attracted a record $23 billion in foreign investment and lowered inflation. He also said it is embarking on a $250 billion, five-year infrastructure plan to improve the country's harbors, airports and highways.
Despite those efforts, Calderon said Mexico needs more cooperation from the U.S. and California.
He urged a comprehensive approach to immigration, considering its economic, political and social implications for both countries.
Mexico needs investment from California and the rest of the nation, he said, while U.S. prosperity depends on Mexican laborers.
"We need to make migration legal, safe and organized," he said.
"The choice is not between migration and security or between migration and prosperity," Calderon said. "The choice is between a future of integration and success or a future of distrust and resentment between us. The choice is ours, and the time is now."
Calderon's initial visit to the U.S. has in large part been aimed at trying to reshape the immigration debate. He traveled to Massachusetts, New York and Chicago before arriving in California Tuesday night.
Illegal immigration dominated the early weeks of the U.S. presidential debate and continues to be a hot button issue throughout the country.
Calderon, who is in the second year of a six-year term, sought to cast his country in a more positive light. He said the Mexican government is trying to improve the lives of the working class so its citizens do not have to seek work in the U.S.
"I want to assure you that Mexico does not encourage its citizens to migrate. I am a president who is not glad to see Mexicans migrating to the United States," he said.
His vision of Mexico' future is one of "a modern, fair and safe country that no longer has to see its children leaving for foreign lands in order to find an opportunity to prosper."
Calderon was warmly received by the Democratic-leaning Legislature. But as he arrived at the Capitol, he was greeted by protesters who carried banners accusing him of being corrupt.
After his address to California lawmakers, Calderon was to meet privately with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and his advisers on environmental and trade issues.
The governor and first lady Maria Shriver will then host a state luncheon for him before he leaves for the Napa Valley and flies to Los Angeles, where he will meet with Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.