White House puts immigration onus on GOP as Calderon visits

President Barack Obama said Wednesday he can corral Democratic support for the Senate immigration proposal, but Republicans will have to sign on to pass a bill.

Obama, joined in the White House Rose Garden by Mexican President Felipe Calderon, endorsed the proposal put forth by Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), saying “it can and should move forward.”

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The president said he is “confident” he can get the majority of Democrats in the House and Senate to support a proposal like that, “but I don’t have 60 votes in the Senate.”

“I’ve got to have some support from Republicans,” Obama said, calling that prospect “politically challenging.”

The president referred to attempts to pass immigration reform legislation in 2006, spearheaded by the late Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). He said he wants to see the Senate “re-create that atmosphere.”

“I don’t expect every Republican vote, but I need some help in order to get it done,” Obama said

The immigration issue has been a focal point of Calderon’s U.S. visit, which included a state dinner Wednesday evening. The Mexican president wasted little time in addressing the issue, criticizing a controversial new immigration law in Arizona at his welcoming ceremony Wednesday morning.

At Wednesday afternoon’s appearance before the press, Obama joined Calderon in voicing opposition to the Arizona law, saying it “has the potential of being applied in a discriminatory fashion.”


The president said he is awaiting the results of a Justice Department review of the law before deciding how to address it. The department has suggested it might mount a legal challenge to the law, which compels state authorities to check the status of anyone they suspect is in the country illegally.

“The judgments that are going to be made in applying this law are troublesome,” Obama said

Still, the president said, the “misdirected” effort by Arizona lawmakers is the result of frustrations felt by states as the federal government has failed to address the issue.

“I’m sympathetic to those frustrations,” Obama said. “I share those frustrations.”

Obama noted twice that illegal immigration is down at the U.S.-Mexican border, saying, “I know that’s not the perception out there, but that’s the fact.

“But we haven’t done enough.”

Obama said he supports legislation that would hold illegal immigrants — and the businesses that employ them — accountable, requiring the former to, among other things, learn English and get at the back of the line to immigrate legally.

“That kind of package, in which everybody has responsibilities, I think can pass,” Obama said.

Calderon acknowledged Obama’s commitment to passing immigration reform, but he repeatedly bashed the Arizona law.

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“We want to make this clear: Both countries want a safe border,” Calderon said.

Calderon said Mexicans “oppose firmly” the Arizona law, which he said contains “unfair principles that are partial and discriminatory.”

“In Mexico, we are and will continue being respectful of the internal policies of the United States and its legitimate right to establish, in accordance to its Constitution, whatever laws it approves,” Calderon said. “But we will retain our firm rejection to criminalize migration so that people that work and provide things to this nation will be treated as criminals.

Obama also discussed trade policies the U.S. shares with Mexico, saying that with more than 80 percent of the two countries’ trade occurring by land, a “21st-century border” must be “an engine, and not a brake, on our economic growth.

Without directly mentioning the trucking dispute between the two countries, Calderon did say he and Obama discussed the “relevance of solving our differences and trade problems in the fastest possible way.” A ban on Mexican trucks on U.S. highways prompted Mexico to impose steep tariffs on certain U.S. imports.

“I can highlight here that the areas where we agree are broader than our differences,” Calderon said. “There is a broad convergence of interests. And this is not only given to the fact that we share common goals, but there is a will of both of us to turn the fact of being neighbors into partnerships that will act as a leveler for shared development.”