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Obamas, Calderon take on immigration

From NBC's Athena Jones
WASHINGTON -- Immigration dominated the conversation at the press conference President Obama and his Mexican counterpart held after their private meetings here Wednesday morning.

Both Obama and President Felipe Calderon spoke about the challenges presented by illegal immigration during their opening statements and both questions during the brief Q and A covered the topic. The issue even came up during an event the two first ladies held with schoolchildren.

How to deal with illegal immigration has been a political hot-button issue in recent years, one no Congress has succeeded in resolving. At today's event, Obama twice made the point of saying that illegal immigration was "down not up" despite perceptions, because his administration had devoted "unprecedented resources" in personnel and technology to securing America's borders. He said the federal government must act to decrease the likelihood that states would pass their own laws to deal with illegal immigration and he repeated much of what he has said in the past about supporting comprehensive immigration reform, but needing Republicans to get something done.

"I don't have 60 votes in the Senate," Obama said. "There have been some people who've expressed an interest, but if they're willing to come forward and get a working group and get this moving, I'm actually confident that we can get it done."

Still, progress on this issue looks increasingly unlikely in this tough election year.

Immigration came up almost as soon as Calderon arrived for a welcome ceremony on the South Lawn this morning. After Obama spoke, calling the United States and Mexico "not simply neighbors, bound by geography and history" but friends and partners, Calderon talked about common challenges the countries faced, including immigration and drug-trafficking, and about the need to start a "new chapter of cooperation" and to combat discrimination.

"I know that we share the interest in promoting dignified, legal and orderly living conditions to all migrant workers," Calderon said. "Many of them, despite their significant contribution to the economy and to the society of the United States, still live in the shadows and, occasionally, as in Arizona, they even face discrimination."

The Mexican president was referring to the controversial Arizona law that requires police to question people suspected of being in the country illegally, provided they are stopped for another violation. Though the legislation was revised in an attempt to prevent racial profiling, both presidents believe its application could lead to harassment.

The two leaders also discussed Iran, Honduras, Haiti the economy, clean energy and drug and weapons trafficking during their meetings, with Obama noting that the United States was devoting "significant resources" to screening 100% of rail cargo heading into Mexico, in an effort to thwart gunrunners.

First Lady gets immigration question
Immigration even came up during a visit First Lady Michelle Obama and Mexican First Lady Margarita Zavala made to a Maryland elementary school. According to the pool report, a second-grader told Mrs. Obama that her mother said "Barack Obama is taking everybody away that doesn't have papers," referring to documentation proving citizenship or the right to work in the United States.

Mrs. Obama responded that it was important "to make that people can be here with the right kind of papers."

The child said her mother did not have any papers.

"Well we have to work on that," Mrs. Obama told the little girl. "We have to fix that and everybody's got to work together in Congress to make sure that happens. That's right."

The first lady, the Bidens and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton joined economic adviser Larry Summers, Washington Mayor Adrian Fenty, Homeland Security Adviser John Brennan, Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, Homeland Secretary Janet Napolitano and other dignitaries and school children on the South Lawn for the festive event.

The Obamas are hosting Calderon and his wife for a state dinner tonight.