WASHINGTON – Mexican President Felipe Calderon asked Congress Thursday to renew a U.S. ban on assault weapons to help in his war with drug cartels, and he stepped up criticism of Arizona’s new immigration law, warning that it will lead to “racial profiling.”
“We will win. But we cannot ignore the fact that the challenge to our security has roots on both sides of the border,” Calderon said, referring both to U.S. demand for illicit drugs and its relatively open market for firearms.
Many of those weapons, he said, end up in the hands of drug gangs responsible for more than 23,000 killings in the three years since he deployed Mexican troops to reassert control.
Conservatives fumed at hearing a foreign leader critique American laws on the floor of the U.S. House, though members of both parties praised Calderon’s courageous battle with organized crime and lauded his efforts to bolster economic opportunity in Mexico, in part because that would ease the flow of workers heading north illegally in search of jobs.
“Migration is not just your problem. We see migration as our problem as well,” Calderon said.
Still, his attacks on the new Arizona law – which requires police to check the immigration status of suspects – struck Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, as “inappropriate.” His comments about the assault weapons ban, which expired in 2004, also fell flat among Republicans.
Mexican and U.S. officials agree that the southbound flow of weapons and drug profits has fueled the cartels. Efforts to intercept contraband have increased dramatically in recent years. But Calderon said gun violence in his country spiked after the ban expired.
Of 75,000 firearms seized by Mexico in the last three years, he said, more than 80 percent of those the authorities were able to trace came from the United States. With 7,000 gun shops near the Mexican border, he said, “almost anyone can purchase these powerful weapons.”
Texas Sen. John Cornyn, a member of the Senate GOP leadership, said the United States has already been cracking down on so-called straw purchases of weapons, in which buyers acquire the guns for a third party.
“I have a lot of respect for President Calderon and his commitment to fight the cartels, but I don’t think Americans ought to give up any of their freedoms in order to address another country’s problems,” he said, adding, “I’m a little uncomfortable with his commenting on American internal affairs and American domestic laws.”