President Obama on Wednesday said he sympathized with Arizona residents’ frustrations over illegal immigration but agreed with Mexican President Felipe Calderon that the state’s tough new immigration law has “the potential of being applied in a discriminatory fashion.”
The president, in a joint appearance with Mr. Calderon at the White House, said his administration is looking to see if the law violates civil rights protections but he said he believes the law, even with last-minute changes passed by the state’s legislature, still leaves people open to abuse.
“I think a fair reading of the language in the statute indicates that it gives the possibility of individuals who are deemed suspicious of being illegal immigrants being harassed or arrested,” Mr. Obama said. “The judgments that are going to be made in applying this law are troublesome.”
For his part Mr. Calderon, speaking at an earlier arrival ceremony with Mr. Obama, said the law shows Mexican immigrants and migrant workers “face discrimination” in Arizona.
The law requires police to check immigration status of people encountered during their regular duties that they suspect might be in the country illegally. The law specifically precludes using race or ethnicity as a test for reasonable suspicion, but critics say they fear police will resort to racial profiling anyway.
Mr. Obama described the law as an expression of frustration with the federal government’s failure to address immigration.
“I’m sympathetic to those frustrations. I share those frustrations,” he said.
The two leaders touched on a number of thorny subjects ranging from immigration to the smuggling of drugs and weapons to bilateral trade disputes, and both pledged to remain friends despite the growing list of challenges.
Mr. Obama said he supports the legislative framework for a broad immigration legalization bill that has been introduced by Senate Democrats, but he said passage depends on gaining support from Republicans, who have yet to sign on.
“I have confidence that I can get the majority of Democrats, both in the House and the Senate, to support a piece of legislation,” he said. “But I don’t have 60 votes in the Senate — I’ve got to have some support from Republicans.”
Republicans who have supported a legalization bill in the past, such as Sen. John McCain of Arizona, say the violence on the U.S.-Mexico border is out of control and that the first step to any reform package is to secure the border. Mr. McCain has proposed deploying thousands of national guard troops to the region, in addition to boosting resources for the U.S. Border Patrol and the court system to handle the flow of illegal immigrants and drugs.
After a day of talks, Mr. Obama will host the Mexican leader for the second state dinnner of his presidency.