Obama Immigration Pledge a Boon for Mexican Leader

Alexandra Olson, Google News, May 7, 2010

President Barack Obama just made life a little easier for his Mexican counterpart. His promise to tackle immigration reform this year ensures Felipe Calderon will not come home empty-handed when he visits Washington in two weeks.

The pledge sets a lighter mood from just a week ago, when Calderon vowed to push immigration reform during his May 19 trip, even while Obama warned “there may not be an appetite” in Congress to take on the sensitive issue.

“Obama making it very clear that he believes in reform is probably something that will make Calderon’s trip a little more successful,” said Peter Hakim, president emeritus of the Washington-based Inter-American Dialogue. “He can say some things that the Mexican president would very much welcome, and Calderon understands the difficulty of this issue in Washington.”

Obama remained cautious in his comments at a Cinco de Mayo celebration at the White House on Wednesday acknowledging immigration reform would be difficult and making no commitment to finishing the process this year.

Even so, it’s a sign of commitment that Calderon needs amid Mexican outrage over Arizona’s tough new immigration law. His government has protested the bill–even issuing a travel warning against the U.S. state–while trying to assure Mexicans that the Obama administration remains sympathetic to the plight of migrants.

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Faced with that atmosphere, Calderon has been reluctant to trumpet the cause.

“It was an issue that both sides were keeping very quiet in their bilateral discussions,” said Andrew Selee, director of the Mexico Institute at the Washington-based Woodrow Wilson Center. “Calderon is in a better place now to bring this up now that it’s back on the U.S. domestic agenda.”

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Immigration across the U.S.-Mexican border has plummeted, and with it, remittances sent home from migrants. That only makes it more urgent for illegal migrants to have a path for legalizing their status, said Mexican central bank President Agustin Carstens.

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