WASHINGTON (CN) – President Obama called for Republican support on immigration legislation Wednesday during a press conference with Mexican President Felipe Calderon. “I need some help,” Obama said. “I don’t have 60 votes in the Senate. I’ve got to have some support of Republicans.” Obama added that the Justice Department is studying Arizona’s new immigration law, and he expects an opinion soon about whether the law itself is legal.
The last attempt to pass immigration overhaul legislation was back in 2007. The measure failed before it got to a final vote in the Senate.
Arizona’s new law requires police to inquire about the status of anyone they suspect of being in the country illegally.
Obama has called the law “misdirected,” and said it could “undermine basic notions of fairness that we cherish as Americans.”
“A fair reading of the language of the statute” points to the possibility that “troublesome” judgments would be made by Arizona police officers, Obama said Wednesday during a speech in the Rose Garden.
“The federal government is ultimately the one charged with immigration policy,” Obama said.
The president said he understood Arizona’s frustration with the federal government’s failure to address immigration problems, but said that Arizona’s new law “has the potential to be applied in a discriminatory fashion.”
He said Arizonans would prefer it “if the federal government did its job,” and he framed the issue as a balance between the government’s duty to foster economic opportunity and secure borders.
Obama acknowledged that the Arizona law “expresses some of the frustrations the American people have had in not fixing a broken immigration system,” adding, “I share those frustrations.”
The Obama administration has repeatedly called current immigration policies “broken.”
Obama said he wants to crack down on employers who actively recruit undocumented workers and said he believes illegal immigrants should pay fines and back taxes, learn English and become legal citizens. He said they should be at the “back of the line not the front.”
Calderon called the Arizona law “discriminatory” and said that he and Mexico “oppose firmly” the new policies. “We retain our firm objection to criminalize immigration,” he said.
Calderon acknowledged Obama’s “sensitivity and commitment” to the issue and said immigration policies needed to be adjusted “in a realistic way to the needs of both of our economies.”
A joint statement issued Wednesday by Obama and Calderon stated, “The presidents recognize that our border offers singular opportunities for both countries. We must develop it and manage it in a holistic fashion and in ways that facilitate the secure, efficient, and rapid flows of goods and people and reduce the costs of doing business between our two countries.”
The joint statement also said the two leaders discussed plans to open three new border crossings this year and start three border-spanning bridge projects.
The statement also said a joint delegation would release a declaration on “21st century border management” late Wednesday that will “help make the 21st century border a reality.” The document will include a two-year plan to improve cross border trade and travel, the first binational plan of its kind.
At the press conference, Obama ignored a reporter’s question about when possible immigration reform legislation would go to the Senate.
During their visit, the two leaders also touched on a disagreement over North American Free Trade Agreement requirements to allow Mexican trucks to cross the United States border, disrupting drug trafficking by shutting off the flow of illegal weapons and cash to Mexico, and economic cooperation to make the region a global leader in creating jobs coming out of the recession.
Obama said the United States is now “searching 100 percent of rail cargo going south,” which he called a “significant investment” in border security.
It is Obama’s fourth bilateral meeting with Calderon. The two leaders have met 11 times total on the world stage.