Mexico president fires up immigration row during US visit

In a press conference with Mexican President Felipe Calderón Wednesday, President Barack Obama warned that the new Arizona anti-illegal immigrant law "has the potential of being applied in a discriminatory fashion."

According to a White House released transcript, a reporter asked, "President Calderón called again the Arizona law discriminatory and called it destructive. Do you agree with him?"

Obama responded,

I think the Arizona law has the potential of being applied in a discriminatory fashion. Now, after it was initially passed, the Arizona legislature amended it and said that this should not be carried out in a discriminatory way. But 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.

However, the White House transcript is not entirely accurate.

At about two minutes into the video posted below the reporter can actually be heard saying, "President Calderón called again the Arizona law discriminatory. You called it misdirected. Do you agree with him?" This shows that there is more of an impasse between the two leaders than the White House released transcript now shows.

This video is from MSNBC's News Live, broadcast May 19, 2010.

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AFP report follows:

Mexico president fires up immigration row during US visit

President Felipe Calderon hit out Wednesday at "discrimination" against Mexican immigrants in Arizona, as the row over the state's draconian new immigration law risked overshadowing his US visit.

Calderon refused to hold his punches at the start of his two-day state visit, strongly criticizing a law that while popular in Arizona has enraged Hispanics, stoked fears of racial profiling and led to widespread condemnation.

"Despite their enormous contribution to the economy and society of the United States," Calderon said, millions of immigrants "still live in the shadows, and at times, like in Arizona, even face patterns of discrimination."

The comments bore even more significance as Calderon chose to make them alongside President Barack Obama at a red-carpet White House ceremony full of pomp and pageantry, before going into official talks behind closed doors.

Obama in turn said that he hoped that the United States and Mexico "can ensure that our common border is secure, modern and efficient," and that immigration "is orderly and safe."

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer has said the law, which has attracted broad support according to recent opinion polls, is needed to help secure the state's porous border, one of the main entry points for illegal immigrants in the US.

Calderon faces immense domestic pressure to seek US immigration reform in the wake of the new law, which allows the detention of people suspected of being in the country illegally.

Obama has fiercely opposed the law, urging opposition Republicans in the US Congress to work jointly with Democrats on an immigration reform bill this year, while also mulling a legal challenge.

Supporters say the law is merely an expression of the frustration felt by Americans who want action taken to deal with the issue of illegal immigrants and are concerned about soaring crime and unemployment rates.

The thorny issue of how to deal with an estimated 12 million illegal immigrants in the United States -- mostly from Mexico -- stymied the former administration of president George W. Bush and has gone untackled so far by Obama.

"Mexican-American families have been here for centuries as well as those who continue to our proud tradition as a nation of immigrants, all of whom strengthen our American family and who join us today," Obama said.

The American leader, however, has offered no assurances he will seek new legislation before crucial mid-term elections in November in which immigration is likely to be a hot-button issue.

During his visit, Calderon will also seek to convince US lawmakers that drug violence in Mexico is not spiraling out of control, despite gruesome beheadings and daily gun battles.

Those fears were compounded in the run-up to his trip by the suspected abduction of Diego Fernandez de Cevallos, a former presidential candidate and senior member of Calderon's own National Action Party (PAN).

"We can stand firm and deepen our cooperation against the drug cartels that threaten our people," Obama said at the opening ceremony.

Calderon, whose presidency ends in 2012, will also seek further US validation for his war on the illegal drug trade, which has been increasingly criticized at home.

More than 22,700 people have died in surging drug-related attacks since Calderon launched a military clampdown on organized crime, involving some 50,000 troops, at the end of 2006.

Relations have improved since the Obama administration admitted US responsibility in Mexico's drug violence -- recognizing both the role of US drug consumers and US weapons flowing illegally to Mexican drug gangs.

But despite verbal support, only a tiny fraction of a 1.3-billion-dollar US initiative aimed at bolstering Mexico's anti-drug policy has been paid out so far.

Calderon's visit includes a state dinner later Wednesday at the White House, only the second such function during Obama's tenure. The Mexican leader is also scheduled to speak to a joint session of the US Congress on Thursday.

At Wednesday's greeting ceremony on the White House lawn, the leaders, accompanied by their wives, shook hands before standing for the national anthems and a performance from a marching band of drummers and flautists.

Obama's first state visit was from Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh last November.