(Update: Adds Mexican President Calderon's comments to CNN's Wolf Blitzer about Mexico's revised immigration law.)
(CNSNews.com) – At a joint press conference in the White House Rose Garden on Wednesday, President Barack Obama and Mexican President Felipe Calderon criticized Arizona’s new law against illegal immigration.
Calderon, through a translator, called the law “discriminatory,” while Obama said the wording of the law was “troublesome” and could lead to innocent people being “harassed or arrested.”
“I think the Arizona law has the potential of being applied in a discriminatory fashion,” Obama said. He said a “fair reading of the language of the statute” raises the possibility that individuals suspected of being in the country illegally could be “harassed or arrested.”
Calderon said while he remains “respectful of the internal policies of the United States,” he firmly rejects criminalizing “migration” so that “people who work and provide things for this nation (USA) will be treated as criminals.”
In Calderon’s Mexico, however, illegal immigration is punished with fines and deportations.
“I know that we share the interest in promoting dignified, legal and orderly living conditions to all migrant workers,” Calderon said through a translator in his prepared remarks. “Many of them, despite their significant contribution to the economy and to the society of the United States, still live in the shadows, and occasionally, as in Arizona, they even face discrimination.”
Obama -- who only took two questions, both from foreign journalists -- said he has asked the Justice Department to look into the Arizona law. Last week, Attorney General Eric Holder told the House Judiciary Committee he had not read the law that Obama and members of his administration have denounced since it was signed by Arizona governor Jan Brewer on April 23.
The two leaders’ criticism comes despite revisions to the Arizona law that expressly prohibit police from racial profiling.
The revised Arizona law specifically states that a person’s immigration status can be checked only if an individual is stopped for some other, valid reason. “A lawful stop, detention or arrest must be in the enforcement of any other law or ordinance of a county, city or town or this state,” the revised law says.
By contrast, Mexican immigration law, revised in 2009, gives Mexican officials the right to check people’s immigration status, and if someone is found to be in the country illegally, they can be fined and deported. The law also requires foreigners to register with the government.
'We send them back'
Wednesday afternoon, after appearing at the White House with President Obama, Calderon appeared on CNN's "The Situation Room" with Wolf Blitzer, where he made the point that illegal immigration is no longer a crime in Mexico, under the 2009 revisions.
“So if people want to come from Guatemala or Honduras or El Salvador or Nicaragua, they want to just come into Mexico, they can just walk in?,” Blitzer asked.
“No,” Calderon said. They need to fill out a form and undergo a criminal background check, he said.
“Do Mexican police go around asking for papers of people they suspect are illegal immigrants?” Blitzer asked.
“Of course. Of course, in the border, we are asking the people, who are you?” Calderon replied.
Once foreigners are legally admitted to the country, “what the Mexican police do is, of course, enforce the law,” Calderon said.
Can people who sneak into Mexico from Central America, for example, get a job? Blitzer asked.
No, no, Calderon replied. “If – if somebody do that without permission, we send back -- we send back them.”
“You find them and you send them back?” Blitzer asked.
“Yes,” Calderon confirmed. He admitted that Americans have a “very powerful argument” when they say that Arizona and other border states are only trying to do what Mexico itself does with illegal immigrants – find them and send them back.
Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), the ranking member on the House Judiciary Committee, sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton -- who hosted Calderon for lunch at the State Department following the Rose Garden press conference – objecting to Calderon pressuring the U.S. about its immigration laws and policies.
“In their advocacy efforts on behalf of Mexican citizens living in the United States, President Calderon and other officials of the Mexican government have crossed the line and are interfering in the internal affairs of the United States,” Smith said in a statement on Wednesday.
“It is well recognized in international law that immigration controls are an internal matter, and not subject to international scrutiny,” Smith said. “Yet, President Calderon has opposed the recently enacted Arizona immigration law, which in fact mirrors federal law.
“Mexican government officials openly talk of a Mexican government boycott of Arizona, but make no effort to prevent their citizens from going there,” Smith said. “American public officials have the right and the responsibility to implement an immigration policy that is in the best interests of the American people.”
According to a White House press release, Obama and Calderon discussed “enhancing mutual economic growth” through the implementation of new, secure border crossings; “clean energy” and the fight against “global warming”; and combating “transnational organized crime.”
Under the heading “Enhancing Social Well Being and Ties Between Our People,” the press release states that Mexicans are needed to fill jobs in the United States.
“Both acknowledged the importance of fixing the broken immigration system, securing the common border and dismantling human trafficking groups, and to set clear rules and priorities for future immigration that level the playing field for American workers while providing a mechanism to fill labor demand in the United States in excess of domestic capacity,” the press release states.
The latest U.S. unemployment rate stands at 9.9 percent, according to the latest figure of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.