Mexican President Felipe Calderon condemned U.S. gun laws and Arizona’s tough new immigration measure Thursday in a speech to Congress that one Democratic lawmaker called “diplomatically daring.”
Calderon said the Arizona law, which is meant to stem the tide of illegal immigrants into the state, primarily from Mexico, “introduces a terrible idea that uses racial profiling as a basis for law enforcement.”
He also implored Congress to reinstitute a ban on assault weapons, blaming the increased flow of guns to Mexico in part on the 2004 U.S. decision to lift the restrictions.
Calderon’s speech garnered a mixed reaction in the House chamber. While he received extended standing ovations at the beginning and end, his comments on gun laws and immigration drew the kind of partisan response found in a U.S. president’s State of the Union address: Half of the chamber — in this case, Democrats — erupted in applause, while Republicans sat stone-faced.
The Mexican leader’s remarks on the Arizona law were hardly surprising; he has sharply criticized the measure before, including Wednesday at the White House, and Mexican officials went so far as to warn the country’s citizens against traveling to Arizona over fears they would be harassed by police.
“I am convinced that a comprehensive immigration reform is crucial to securing our common border,” Calderon told lawmakers in the joint session in the House chamber. “However, I strongly disagree with your recently adopted law in Arizona.”
While Democrats stood and applauded, Republicans remained seated and silent. Sen. John CornynJohn CornynDemocrats up ante in risky debt ceiling fight Senate parliamentarian nixes Democrats' immigration plan Democrats make case to Senate parliamentarian for 8 million green cards MORE (R-Texas), in the front row, could be seen shaking his head. Arizona’s two GOP senators, John McCainJohn Sidney McCainBiden falters in pledge to strengthen US alliances 20 years after 9/11, US foreign policy still struggles for balance What the chaos in Afghanistan can remind us about the importance of protecting democracy at home MORE and Jon Kyl, both of whom support the enforcement law, did not attend the speech.
Republicans had criticized Calderon for using an appearance with President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaBill Maher, Isiah Thomas score over the NFL's playing of 'Black national anthem' Democrats confront 'Rubik's cube on steroids' White House debates vaccines for air travel MORE on Wednesday to attack the Arizona law, which compels law enforcement officials to confront individuals they suspect of being illegal immigrants to ask for paperwork proving their legal status. Critics of the law say it fosters racial profiling.
After Calderon’s speech to Congress, Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchCongress, stop holding 'Dreamers' hostage Drug prices are declining amid inflation fears The national action imperative to achieve 30 by 30 MORE (R-Utah) called the dignitary’s remarks on Arizona “inappropriate.” “It’s inappropriate for a head of state to question our laws, especially when the state of Arizona only acted in the best interest of its citizens and with the support of 70 percent of its people,” Hatch said in a statement.
Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) said Calderon should not have brought up the Arizona law. “He had to know that was not the right thing to do,” said King, one of Congress’s most outspoken critics of illegal immigration.
King said he took issue more with Calderon’s characterization of the law than the forum he used to condemn it.
“I’m not so much offended by his remarks as I am offended by the inaccuracy of the remarks,” he said. The congressman said the Arizona law closely mirrors federal law, a point he said has been overlooked by Calderon and many critics.
Rep. José Serrano (D-N.Y.), a staunch critic of the Arizona law and supporter of expanded immigration, called Calderon’s speech “diplomatically daring.” “He touched on all the points he had to touch on,” Serrano said. Complaints about Calderon criticizing U.S. law on American soil were invalid because U.S. lawmakers “tell Mexico every day that it’s got to get its house in order,” he said.
On guns, Calderon said that while he respected the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment protections, assault weapons are falling into the hands of drug gangs locked in a violent war with the Mexican government.
“I will ask Congress to help us, with respect, and understand how important it is for us to enforce current laws to stem the flow of guns and enforce existing laws as well as consider reinstating the assault weapons ban,” Calderon said. His plea won strong applause from Democrats, but less support from Republicans. Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) joined Democrats in a standing ovation.
Calderon’s brief departure into Spanish during the immigration section of his speech apparently required some translation for a few in the audience. Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidDemocrats say Biden must get more involved in budget fight Biden looks to climate to sell economic agenda Justice Breyer issues warning on remaking Supreme Court: 'What goes around comes around' MORE (D-Nev.) leaned over to Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), who is fluent in Spanish, while Sen. Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsOvernight Hillicon Valley — Apple issues security update against spyware vulnerability Stanford professors ask DOJ to stop looking for Chinese spies at universities in US Overnight Energy & Environment — Democrats detail clean electricity program MORE (R-Ala.) appeared to get some help from a page.
While the upper galleries of the House chamber were full, dozens of senators and House members skipped Calderon’s speech, leaving officials to use pages and junior staffers to fill seats. Three members of the Obama Cabinet — Attorney General Eric HolderEric Himpton HolderChristie, Pompeo named co-chairs of GOP redistricting group Democrats look to state courts as redistricting battle heats up On The Trail: Census kicks off a wild redistricting cycle MORE, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar — attended.
Jordy Yager contributed to this article.