Mexican President Felipe Calderon is expected to air strong objections to U.S. immigration policies during a two-day visit that opens Wednesday with a private Oval Office meeting with President Obama.
Calderon will protest the strict new anti-immigration law enacted in Arizona. And he is likely to urge a far-reaching overhaul of the U.S. immigration system to give the estimated 11 million people living illegally in the United States a chance to gain legal status, officials said. His visit comes as the Obama administration considers mounting a legal challenge to the Arizona law signed by Gov. Jan Brewer last month.
A team of lawyers from the Justice Department’s civil rights unit and other divisions has been reviewing the law and is expected to issue a recommendation in coming weeks.
Obama has delayed action on an immigration bill, even as his administration steps up deportations and enforcement actions.
An Obama administration official who briefed reporters Tuesday said U.S. officials realize how important the issue is on both sides of the border.
“We certainly understand that this is an issue that has resonated in Mexico, is of deep concern to the Mexican government,” said the official, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the record.
In addition to meeting with Obama, the Mexican leader is scheduled to address a joint session of Congress and meet separately with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.
Elections are coming up in Mexico and voters back home expect Calderon to denounce anything that smacks of ill treatment of Mexicans in the United States.
The Mexican president already has called the Arizona law “irresponsible” and “discriminatory.”
Mexico has issued a travel advisory warning citizens they might be harassed should they visit Arizona.
Any objections Calderon raises with his U.S. counterparts are “more for his domestic constituency than a U.S. constituency,” said Shannon O’Neil, a Latin America expert at the Council on Foreign Relations.
The Obama administration has said that it is sympathetic to Calderon’s point of view.
Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. has criticized the Arizona law, but acknowledged in a congressional hearing last week that he had not read it. A Justice Department spokesman said Tuesday that Holder has been thoroughly briefed on the law.
Justice officials have indicated that they might mount a legal challenge based on two claims: that the law might subject people to racial profiling and that it usurps the federal government’s power to enforce immigration law, according to participants.
“My impression was clearly that they were going to take action,” said Eliseo Medina, a union official who was at a May 4 meeting with government attorneys.
“They said they were checking to see if there was compliance with civil rights laws.”
The U.S.-Mexico summit also will give the two leaders a chance to spotlight joint efforts against drug trafficking, which has dominated relations since Calderon launched a crackdown on cartels in 2006.
Assistant Atty. Gen. Lanny A. Breuer told a Senate Judiciary subcommittee Tuesday that joint law enforcement efforts between the U.S. and Mexico are essential to bringing down the cartel violence in Mexico and the demand for drugs in this country.
Times staff writers Richard A. Serrano in Washington and Ken Ellingwood in Mexico City contributed to this report.