President Obama today offered his most extensive remarks on Arizona's immigration law to date, fittingly in an appearance with Mexican President Felipe Calderon at the White House.
Calderon has made Arizona's law, SB1070, a major part of his visit here. He criticized the law upon arriving at the White House, then called it "discriminatory" in a further critique at a joint appearance with Obama early this afternoon.
Obama was asked by a Mexican reporter about the law, whether it is "discriminatory," and what he intends to do about it as president.
"I think the Arizona law has the potential of being applied in a discriminatory fashion," Obama said, not going as far as the Mexican president.
"Now, after it was initially passed, the Arizona legislature amended it and said that this should not be carried out in a discriminatory way, but I think a fair reading of the language of the statute indicates that it gives the possibility of individuals who are deemed suspicious of being illegal immigrants from being harassed or arrested, and the judgments that are gonna be made in applying this law are troublesome," the president said.
Several days after Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signed the original law, SB1070, she signed follow-on legislation, HB2162, that amended it by striking the word "solely" from a provision that officers "may not solely consider race, color or national origin in implementing the requirements" of the law. Now, the law prevents officers from using race, period. You can read the text of the updated law here
Obama mentioned that he has directed the Department of Justice "to look very carefully at the language of this law to see if it comports with our core values and our legal standards" as well as the federal government's authority in upholding immigration policies.
The president said the federal government needs to take steps forward on immigration--and that means Congress must pass comprehensive reform. Obama pointed out that it's not entirely up to him whether that happens.
Immigration reform needs to include border security and a pathway to citizenship that requires undocumented immigrants to pay a fine and learn English, Obama said.
"The political challenge is that I have confidence that I can get the majority of Democrats both in the House and Senate to support a piece of legislation of the sort that I just described, but I don't have 60 votes in the Senate. I've got to have some support from the other side," Obama said.
These were the most extensive comments Obama has given on immigration in some time. When the Mexican reporter asked her multi-part question, Obama essentially proceeded to lay out his entire view on Arizona's law, federal immigration reform, how the two fit together, and what must happen. It was a fundamental theory on immigration that includes America's right to determine who comes into the country, as well as a recognition that illegal immigrants from Mexico are coming here in search of a better life.
The president mentioned, as has been mentioned before by others, that we are "a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants."
It was a tense appearance with Calderon, in some regards, as the Mexican president used his appearance at the White House to directly criticize a U.S. policy. Calderon said he and Obama had undertaken a frank discussion about immigration and other issues.
Calderon will address a joint session of Congress tomorrow. Look for more immigration comments, potentially, in that speech.