Felipe Calderon calls Arizona immigration law racial profiling

In a speech today to the US Congress, Mexican President Felipe Calderon said the new Arizona immigration law amounts to acceptance of racial profiling. He also called for an assault weapons ban.

Alex Brandon/AP
Mexican President Felipe Calderon addresses a joint meeting of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday. President Calderon says the new Arizona immigration law amounts to acceptance of racial profiling.

In the first address to the US Congress by a foreign leader this year, Mexican President Felipe Calderon reiterated his stance that the new Arizona immigration law amounts to a tacit acceptance of racial profiling.

"I strongly disagree with the recently adopted law in Arizona,” he told American lawmakers. “It is a law that … ignores a reality that cannot be erased by decree” and “introduces a terrible idea using racial profiling as a basis for law enforcement.”

But the law – and any potential overhaul of the US immigration system – is not only being watched by Mexico but by Latin America as a whole.

IN PICTURES: US/Mexico State Dinner

In Colombia, where residents have long fled internal violence and sought better-paid jobs in the US, Colombians interviewed say they support Mexico’s stance against Arizona and hope that it makes a difference in the immigration debate overall.

“Immigrants only do the work that Americans will not do,” says Martin Botero, a pollster at the University of Antioquia in Medellin and has several family members in Connecticut, many of whom first arrived in the US illegally. “The law is unfair, and the federal law in general needs to be reformed.”

Some US lawmakers reacted angrily to Calderon´s address, which also called for the US Congress to restore a ban assault weapons and stop the flow of guns into Mexico.

Arizona's senior Republican senator, John McCain issued a statement saying it was "unfortunate and disappointing the president of Mexico chose to criticize the state of Arizona by weighing in on a U.S. domestic policy issue during a trip that was meant to reaffirm the unique relationship between our two countries."

Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn, the Associated Press reported, said it was inappropriate for Calderon to lecture Americans on state and local law. He defended the Arizona immigration law. He also said, referring to the call to curb assault weapon exports, that “the Second Amendment is not a subject open for diplomatic negotiation, with Mexico or any other nation."

The Mexican leader said he was doing what he could to boost employment and economic growth at home, but pointed to the "need to fix a broken and inefficient [immigration] system ... the time has come to reduce the causes of migration and to turn this phenomenon into a legal, ordered and secure flow of workers and visitors."

Opposition in Latin America

Calderon’s opposition to the Arizona immigration law resonates throughout Latin America – at least, among the elite. The Secretary General of the Organization of American States, Jose Miguel Insulza, condemned it last month, calling it “an issue of concern to all citizens of the Americas, beginning with the citizens of the United States.”

During a summit of the 12-member Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) in Argentina this month, officials from Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, Uruguay, and Venezuela issued a joint statement, saying the new law in Arizona would “criminalize” those detained “on racial, ethnic, language, and migratory status” and generated “the latent risk for violence based on racial hatred.”

On Wednesday, Cuba's lawmakers passed a similar resolution which was reprinted in the Communist Party daily newspaper Granma on Thursday, which says the Arizona law "has a profound racist and xenophobic character, and permits police to use racial profiling."

The lawmakers said the Arizona measure "aims to close the doors on immigrants to territories that were stolen by force from the noble Mexican people." referring to the 1948 sale of Mexican land to Arizona after its defeat in the Mexican-American war. As the Associated Press notes, some may find Cuba's position hypocritical, given that Cuban citizens are required to carry identification with them wherever they go, and can be stopped by police and sent home if they are found in a part of the island where they don't belong.

In Mexico everyone from senators to street vendors have an opinion about the Arizona law (most are overwhelmingly against it). Conferences and meetings scheduled to be held in Arizona have been canceled by Mexican politicians. Mr. Calderon issued a “travel warning” for Mexicans in Arizona after it was passed. Politicians, business leaders, and activists have called for national boycotts against Arizona.

But here in Colombia, many interviewed say they’ve never heard of the law. Still, if the debate is not top of mind in South America, when asked about it, Colombians say they will stand with Mexico. “These are people who are only there to make a better life, or to escape violence. They are needed,” says Katy Carvajal, who works with a school transport system in Medellin. “They should be accepted.”

IN PICTURES: US/Mexico State Dinner


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