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Mexican officials condemn Arizona's tough new immigration law

By William Booth
Washington Post staff writer
Tuesday, April 27, 2010; A05

MEXICO CITY -- President Felipe Calderón on Monday vigorously condemned a tough new immigration law in Arizona that requires police to question anyone who appears to be in the country illegally -- a measure Calderón said "opens the door to intolerance and hatred."

Under the new law, signed by Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) on Friday, legal immigrants will be required to carry documents proving their status. Police will question anyone they "reasonably suspect" of being undocumented, and illegal immigrants could be detained and handed over to federal authorities. The law takes effect in 90 days. Brewer said the costs of uncontrolled illegal immigration and the lack of enforcement by the federal government forced her state to act on its own.

Mexican officials reacted with swift and near-universal condemnation, warning that the law could harm trade, tourism and bilateral relations. The U.S.-Mexico border is the busiest in the world, with approximately 350 million crossings per year. Daily two-way movement of goods amounts to about $1 billion, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Mexico's health minister, José Ángel Córdova, who is widely credited with stemming the global spread of swine flu, called it "a discriminatory law, abominable for us."

José Guadalupe Osuna Millán, the governor of the Mexican state of Baja California, which abuts California, warned that the law "could disrupt the indispensable economic, political and cultural exchanges of the entire border region."

A senator and a leader of the center-right National Action Party, Josefina Vázquez Mota, said the Arizona law would mean "the criminalization of all Mexicans."

Calderón called the Arizona law "a violation of human rights" and promised it would be at the top of his agenda when he comes to Washington in May to meet with President Obama, who has called the Arizona measure "misguided."

Calderón said he was instructing Mexico's foreign ministry and consulates in the United States to organize and work with a network of lawyers to defend the rights of Mexicans.

Top officials in Mexico are usually publicity shy about U.S. legislation. They have been quietly pushing for sweeping federal immigration reform, which would include a path to legal residency, but they speak a vague diplomatic language that calls for "respect" and "dignity" for illegal migrants, while pointing out their contributions to both the U.S. and Mexican economies. Mexicans working abroad sent home last year more than $20 billion, the country's second leading source of foreign capital after oil sales.

Calderón acknowledged that his citizens went north because Mexico lacks opportunity, and that immigration should be regulated. But he also said, "It would be difficult to imagine the growth and prosperity of the United States in the 20th century without the contributions of Mexican workers."

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