President Obama on Wednesday took another shot at Arizona’s new immigration law, saying even last-minute changes leave open the “possibility” of racial profiling, and urged Congress to pass an immigration legalization proposal drafted by Senate Democrats.
In a joint appearance in the Rose Garden, Mr. Obama and Mexican President Felipe Calderon offered little in the way of specific solutions to several thorny topics of discussion that ranged from the Arizona law to the violent smuggling of drugs and weapons across the border to ongoing trade disputes.
But in pointed remarks, Mr. Obama said he sympathized with Arizona’s frustration over federal inaction on immigration but agreed with Mr. Calderon the state’s new law could lead to discrimination. He also said Republicans are holding up efforts to reform immigration policies.
“I think a fair reading of the language of the statute indicates that it gives the possibility of individuals who are deemed suspicious of being illegal immigrants from being harassed or arrested. And the judgments that are going to be made in applying this law are troublesome,” Mr. Obama told reporters.
For his part Mr. Calderon, speaking at an earlier arrival ceremony with Mr. Obama, said the law shows that Mexican migrants “face discrimination” in Arizona.
The law requires police to check immigration status of people encountered during their regular duties who 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 use racial profiling anyway.
While reaffirming the nations’ strong relationship, the leaders released a joint communique that called for the creation of new collaborative bodies to address U.S.-Mexico interests: a steering committee to oversee the border, a regulatory cooperation council and a cross-border task force on renewable energy.
And regarding a broad immigration legalization bill this year, Mr. Obama said he supports the legislative framework 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.”
Members of the GOP 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 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.
The Democratic framework, authored by Sen. Charles E. Schumer of New York, would create a multistep path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants now in the country, and would rewrite the rules for future legal immigration.
On security, it calls for certain benchmarks for increased Border Patrol agents and technology before any legalization plan could take effect. But Republicans say border-state governors should have to certify the borders are secure before any legalization plan - something the Schumer framework doesn’t include.
In a demonstration of just how sensitive the topic of immigration is, a second-grader confronted first lady Michelle Obama about the legal status of her mother at a Maryland elementary school visited by Mrs. Obama and Mexico’s first lady, Margarita Zavala, Wednesday morning. The little girl said, “Barack Obama is taking everybody away that doesn’t have papers,” adding that her mother doesn’t have papers.
Mrs. Obama responded,”We have to fix that and everybody’s got to work together in Congress to make sure that happens.”
Mr. Obama and Mr. Calderon said they also devoted a good deal of time to addressing the brutal drug war south of the border. Despite Mr. Calderon’s efforts to crack down on violent cartels, more than 23,000 people have died since he took office in 2006.
Recent and high-profile flare-ups, led by the killing of an American consulate worker in March, have injected a renewed sense of immediacy on the part of the United States. Mr. Obama on Wednesday echoed previous statements by saying the U.S. deserves some blame for providing a market for the drugs and supplying weapons to the cartels.
While the leaders alluded to ongoing trade disputes - such as the U.S. refusal to allow Mexican trucks on American roads, despite the North American Free Trade Agreement - no resolution was announced. Instead, they promised to continue to work through economic sticking points.