Mexican President Felipe Calderon delivers a speech to a joint session of congress in the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington on May 20, 2010. Calderon spoke out against Arizona's immigration law. UPI/Kevin Dietsch | License Photo
WASHINGTON, May 20 (UPI) -- Mexican President Felipe Calderon made forceful calls Thursday for the United States to act on immigration reform and to stem the illegal flow of weapons to Mexico during a speech before the U.S. Congress.
Calderon reiterated his recent public criticisms of a stringent new Arizona state law targeting illegal immigration, which critics claim will lead to racial profiling. He asked U.S. lawmakers to pursue comprehensive immigration reform.
The Mexican president touted his country's economic development efforts, which he said will ultimately provide jobs at home for the millions of Mexican citizens who have crossed illegally into the United States in search of work.
"I am not a president who likes to see Mexicans leave our country searching for opportunity abroad," Calderon said. "… For us, migration is not just your problem -- we see migration as our problem as well."
He highlighted joint efforts by the United States and Mexico to secure the border and combat drug cartels and thanked the United States for the approximately $1.3 billion in anti-drug and anti-crime assistance that had been appropriated for Mexico through the Merida Initiative.
However, he also called on the United States to crack down on the flow of illegal weapons from the United States to Mexico and to consider reinstating a ban on the sale of assault rifles.
"Our administrations are sharing more information than ever to fight crime," he said. "However, 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."
The U.S. ban on assault weapon sales to civilians expired in 2004, which Calderon said coincided with the beginning of a rise in violence in Mexico.
At least 22,700 people have been killed in drug-related violence in Mexico since 2007 when Calderon launched a militarized crackdown on the cartels.
U.S. Sens. John McCain and Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., were absent from Calderon' address.
McCain, who instead attended a subcommittee hearing on counter-narcotics contracts, issued a statement saying, "It's unfortunate and disappointing the president of Mexico chose to criticize the state of Arizona by weighing in on a U.S. domestic policy issue during a trip that was meant to reaffirm the unique relationship between our two countries."
Kyl's office didn't immediately respond to requests for comment. The senator was to attend a discussion on Arizona's immigration law at Georgetown Law School Thursday.
Assistant Senate Majority Leader Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said after the hearing that he agreed with Calderon that the Arizona law was "a terrible mistake."
Echoing statements made by U.S. President Barack Obama Wednesday, Durbin said the lack of Republican support is stymieing immigration reform.
"We still don't have a single Republican senator who's stepped forward to even engage in the debate," he said.