Mexican President Felipe Calderon on Thursday strongly denounced Arizona's new law clamping down on illegal immigrants and urged members of Congress to pass "comprehensive immigration reform."
In the first address to Congress by a foreign national leader this year, Calderon delivered a message that the two countries must cooperate to improve security along the often-violent border and control the flow of immigrants into the United States.
While Republican lawmakers welcomed Calderon's call for improved relations between the two countries, they jeered his lecture on how to fix the U.S. immigration system and his criticism of Arizona's new law.
"I think it's inappropriate for him to come in and criticize our law," Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, told Fox News. "When we go down to Mexico, we don't do that to the Mexicans."
"The Arizona law is not the problem," he added. "The problem is the growing violence down the border and securing the border and the Obama administration enforcing federal law."
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, the ranking member on the Judiciary Committee's immigration, refugees and border security subcommittee, said it was "inappropriate" for Calderon to "lecture Americans on our own state and federal laws."
"Arizona's immigration law has been amended to make clear it does not authorize racial profiling by law enforcement," he said.
In his remarks Thursday, Calderon said he is "convinced comprehensive immigration reform is crucial to securing our border."
"But I strongly disagree with the recently adopted law in Arizona," he said. "It's a law that not only ignores reality, but also introduces racial profiling as a basis for law enforcement."
Calderon said his "government does not favor the breaking of the rules" and that he respects the right of any country to "enact and enforce its own laws."
"But what we need today is to fix a broken and inefficient system," he said. "We favor the establishment of laws that work and work well for all."
Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, the ranking Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, said he was "disappointed that President Calderon did not use this opportunity before us to talk about what more Mexico will do to discourage illegal immigration and improve conditions so that good, hardworking Mexican citizens will want to stay home instead of coming to America."
"The economic and tax reforms that President Calderon discussed are important, but they are not enough to curb the flow of illegal immigration," he said in a written statement. "Instead, President Calderon continues to mischaracterize and criticize domestic policies of the United States. It is not right for the president of another country to come here and criticize our nation or our states for wanting to stop human smuggling and drug trafficking, or secure our border."
Calderon's state visit comes at a time of renewed furor over the flawed immigration system from Mexico into the United States. From border security troubles to questions about how to deal with the millions of illegal migrants living in the United States, the immigration debate remains politically vexing, frustrating and volatile.
Obama is lobbying lawmakers to get moving on legislation that would seek to deal with the security, employment and citizenship issues at once. He concedes, however, that he does not yet have the Republican support he would need to get such a complex deal done. Whether any progress will happen this year is unclear.
Stoking the matter is a new law approved by Arizona lawmakers and set to take effect July 29 unless derailed by legal challenges. It requires police, in the context of enforcing other laws, to question people about their immigration status if there is reason to suspect they are in the United States illegally.
Calderon calls that discriminatory, and Obama agrees the Arizona law could well be applied that way. He has ordered a Justice Department review.
Calderon also told Congress Thursday that the fight against narcotics traffickers along the border can only succeed if the United States reduces its demand for illegal drugs. Calderon called on Congress to reinstate the assault weapons ban. "The Second Amendment is not a subject open for diplomatic negotiation, with Mexico or any other nation," Cornyn said.
He said the United States must stop the flow of assault weapons and other arms across the border.
The Mexican leader found an ally at the White House Wednesday, where Obama is pressing lawmakers to take up legislation that would deal with security, employment and citizenship issues.