Mexican President Felipe Calderon said Wednesday that U.S. state immigration laws such as that of Arizona, which is fighting for the measure in the U.S. Supreme Court, smack of xenophobia.
"I want to be very clear. We are respectful of U.S. sovereignty. But we have to be firmly against those initiatives that tend to criminalize those that are not committing a crime," Calderon said during an hourlong speech to more than 200 Mexican immigrants at a community center in Houston.
The speech was part of a daylong visit to Houston by Calderon, who also met with local business leaders and the city's mayor. Latinos make up about 44 percent of Houston's population, according to U.S. census figures.
While Calderon made reference to various initiatives U.S. states have passed to control illegal immigration, he singled out Arizona's law, which he described as not only anti-immigrant but also as possibly racist.
Calderon's comments on immigration came the same day that the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments over Arizona's law, which requires police to check the legal status of people they stop for other reasons.
During arguments earlier in the day, justices on the high court seemed to strongly suggest they are ready to allow Arizona to enforce part of the law.
The Obama administration challenged the law in federal court. Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina and Utah passed similar laws, parts of which also are on hold pending the high court's decision.
A decision in the high-profile immigration case is expected in late June.
Calderon said he isn't interested in promoting Mexican immigration to the U.S., but he wants to ensure that Mexican immigrants in the U.S. can live and work in dignity. He said immigrants who commit crimes in the U.S. should face consequences.
"As president I am not interested that more people leave Mexico. It hurts. ... Community leaders leave ... families are broken," he said. "The people who are here have elemental rights such as respect for their dignity."
During his speech, Calderon also highlighted a study released earlier this week by the Pew Hispanic Center that said the number of Mexican immigrants living illegally in the U.S. has dropped significantly for the first time in decades.
Calderon said this was good news for Mexico as the drop showed that more immigrants are choosing to return home because the country's economy as well as its education and health care systems are improving.
Alain Cisneros, a Mexican immigrant who stood outside the community center before Calderon's speech because he did not receive an invitation to the event by the Mexican consulate in Houston, said he would have told the president that he is painting a false picture of Mexico.
Cisneros, who is from San Luis Potosi and has lived in Houston for 16 years, said Mexico is still struggling with poverty, the ongoing drug war and a lack of well-paying jobs for its citizens.
"I wish I could have an opportunity to tell him that his arguments aren't true and in his farewell to the United States, he is leaving an image of a Mexico that doesn't exist," said Cisneros, 34. Calderon's six-year term as president is ending this year as Mexico will choose a new president July 1.
Based on reporting by the Associated Press.