During his recent trip to Washington, D.C., Mexican President Felipe Calderon was the guest of honor in only the second State Dinner conducted by the Obama administration during its nearly eighteen months in office. While in Washington, Calderon also had the distinguished opportunity to address a joint session of the United States congress. While doing so, Calderon took advantage of this opportunity to lecture his hosts on what he deems to be the troubling nature of recently passed Arizona legislation designed to curb the proliferation of illegal immigrants in the state.
“It is a law that not only ignores a reality that cannot be erased by decree but also introduces a terrible idea using racial profiling as a basis for law enforcement,” Calderon told the assembled group of American legislators. Calderon continued by emphasizing his desire to elicit the support of the United States in reducing the number of arms migrating south of the border.
“There is one issue where Mexico needs your cooperation, and that is stopping the flow of assault weapons and other deadly arms across the border.” Calderon added that many of the weapons available in the United States are not ending up in the hands of honest law-abiding Americans. “Instead, thousands are ending up in the hands of criminals.”
Calderon naturally used his opportunity in addressing the joint session of congress to underscore the issues that have become central to his administration; namely, the proliferation of violence and instability emanating from the increasingly malignant nature of Mexico’s drug cartels. While this issue certainly affects Mexico as well as the United States, Calderon needlessly added fuel to the fire surrounding the current immigration debate by levying criticisms toward its proponents.
In doing so, President Calderon failed to recognize the overwhelming support among the American electorate for the Arizona immigration law. By not recognizing this phenomenon, Calderon risks undermining his ability to generate the cooperation necessary between the United States and Mexico in addressing the pressing issues facing both nations.
Recent polls conducted by the Pew Research Center and The Wall Street Journal/NBC show a tremendous amount of support among the American public for Arizona’s recently passed immigration legislation. In total, nearly sixty percent of Americans support the Arizona law according to the Pew poll. Those numbers are echoed by the WSJ/NBC poll which showed support for the Arizona law hovering near sixty-five percent. Taken in the aggregate these numbers register broad support for the legislation; however, support increases further as independent elements of the law are evaluated.
According to Pew, 73 percent of Americans support requiring people to produce documents proving their legal status. Pew also found that just under 70 percent of Americans support allowing law enforcement personnel to detain anyone incapable of verifying their legal status. Irrespective of one’s personal opinions concerning the Arizona law it is difficult to refute the broad support it enjoys among the American public.
In pointedly criticizing the Arizona law while in Washington, Calderon was tacitly condemning the sentiments of the American people themselves. If President Calderon desires cooperation from the United States in addressing the issues facing his nation he needs to recognize that the support and cooperation of the American public must be obtained first. Suggesting that the Arizona law is a “terrible idea” and is tantamount to an endorsement of “racial profiling” will not engender the sympathies of the American people.
The issues confronting Mexico are multifaceted, and in the case of escalating violence resulting from Mexican drug cartels, one that is of natural concern to the United States. Many Americans and their representatives understand the unique relationship shared by the United States and Mexico and want nothing more than to see both sides of the border prosper. The issues faced by one nation inexorably affect the other be it of trade, illegal immigration, or public safety.
President Calderon should engage in a healthy dose of introspection. Many of the systemic problems facing his nation, whether of government corruption or wide economic and social stratification, are largely contributory to the prevailing conditions, which led to the political climate that ushered in Arizona’s recent immigration law. Rather than using his visit to Washington as a forum for criticizing his host country, President Calderon would have been better served emphasizing his understanding of the frustrations consuming the American people.
The support of the United States is a key factor affecting President Calderon’s ability to achieve the priorities of his domestic agenda. Whether enhancing and continuing the support of the Merida Initiative in helping to combat Mexico’s drug-fueled violence or seeking greater American assistance in curbing the southern migration of weapons into Mexico, President Calderon must realize that in diminishing the concerns of the citizens of his northern ally he diminishes the political will of the people upon whom so much of his own agenda rests.
Scott G. Erickson has worked in the field of law enforcement for the past decade and holds both his B.S. and M.S. in Criminal Justice Studies. He resides in the San Francisco Bay Area.