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Mexico’s Calderon Decries Immigration Status Quo Before Congress

May 20, 2010 at 12:00 AM EDT

JIM LEHRER: Immigration reform, which is back in the spotlight today in Washington.

Ray Suarez has our story.

MAN: Madam Speaker, the president of Mexico.

RAY SUAREZ: It was the second and final day of President Felipe Calderon’s state visit to Washington.

FELIPE CALDERON, Mexican president: It’s a great honor to stand before you today.

RAY SUAREZ: And, as he did yesterday at the White House, the Mexican leader used today’s address to Congress to make his case on immigration.

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

RAY SUAREZ: That law makes it a state crime not to carry proper documentation. And it empowers police to check anyone they find suspicious.

FELIPE CALDERON: It is a law that not only ignores a reality that cannot be erased by decree, but also introduce a terrible idea using racial — racial profiling as the basis for law enforcement. We must find, together, a better way to face and fix this common problem.

RAY SUAREZ: Calderon’s criticism drew cheers and a standing ovation from the Democratic side of the aisle. Most Republicans remained seated and didn’t applaud.

Later, Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona said Calderon’s remarks were unfortunate and disappointing. But Calderon also went beyond the Arizona law and called for attacking the root of the problem.

FELIPE CALDERON: The time has come to reduce the causes of migration and to turn this phenomenon into a legal, order and secure flows of workers and visitors. We want to provide the Mexican people with the opportunities they are looking for. That is our goal.

RAY SUAREZ: The Mexican president said it all comes down to building a strong Mexican and North American economy.

FELIPE CALDERON: Members of the Congress, I am not a president who likes to see Mexicans leave our country searching for opportunities abroad. With migration, our communities lose their best people, the hardest-working, the most dynamic, the leaders of the communities.

RAY SUAREZ: President Calderon also appealed for U.S. support in stemming the drug violence in his country. He’s using the Mexican army to battle narcotics traffickers, but the violence has claimed at least 23,000 lives since he took office in 2006.

Today, Calderon urged the U.S. to restore a ban on assault weapons that are finding their way across the border and to address drug usage among Americans.

FELIPE CALDERON: Let us work together to end this lethal trade that threatens Mexico and your own people. We cannot ignore the fact that the challenge to our security has roots on both sides of the border. At the end of the day, its origin is the high demand for drugs here and in other places.

RAY SUAREZ: The growing violence along the border was highlighted in March by the killings of two Americans connected to a U.S. consulate in Juarez.

But it was immigration that dominated Calderon’s two-day visit to Washington. It even came up when first lady Michelle Obama and her Mexican counterpart, Margarita Zavala, visited an elementary school in Silver Spring, Maryland, just outside Washington.

As they met with students, a second-grader spoke up to tell of her mother’s fears.

CHILD: She say that Barack Obama is taking everybody away that doesn’t have papers.

MICHELLE OBAMA, first lady: Yes, well, that’s something that we have to work on, right, to make sure that people can be here with the right kind of papers, right? That is exactly right.

CHILD: But my mom doesn’t have papers.

RAY SUAREZ: Later, the Department of Homeland Security released a statement saying it wouldn’t pursue any action against the girl’s mother.