Immigration Reform May Overshadow Drug Violence When Obama Meets With Mexican President Wednesday

By Julie Pace | May 19, 2010 | 4:57 AM EDT

President Obama visits Mexican President Felipe Calderone in Mexico City in April 2009. (AP Photo)

Washington (AP) - Propelled by a new Arizona law, the debate over immigration reform will take center stage when President Barack Obama welcomes Mexico's Felipe Calderon to the White House and could overshadow the drug wars as the prime topic in talks between the two countries for the first time in years.
While immigration long has been a source of tension, the controversial Arizona law threatens to add strain to U.S.-Mexican relations. Calderon has condemned Arizona's law, which makes it a crime under state law to be in the country illegally. Obama has called the law "misguided" and asked the Justice Department to review it.
Facing pressure from lawmakers at home, Calderon has vowed to push for immigration reform during his trip to Washington. His government has issued a travel warning for Arizona, warning that Mexicans face an adverse political environment there.
Obama has promised to start work on an immigration overhaul, but he's also warned that Congress may not have the appetite to take on the sensitive issue this year. A senior administration official said Tuesday that the president will reiterate his commitment to fixing the nation's immigration system during his meetings with Calderon.
The official also said the administration plans to address security along the U.S.-Mexico border and build on work done this year to open new border crossings and invest in the modernization of existing crossings. The official spoke on condition of anonymity in order to speak freely ahead of the meetings.
The two leaders planned a joint news conference in the White House Rose Garden on Wednesday afternoon followed by a formal dinner for 200 guests in the evening -- Obama's second state dinner.
Obama and Calderon have met nearly a dozen times since Obama took office, including a meeting in April 2009 in Mexico City and a North American leaders' summit in Guadalajara in August. First lady Michelle Obama also has formed a friendship with Mexico's first lady, Margarita Zavala, who visited the White House in February. Mrs. Obama visited Zavala in Mexico City last month on her first solo trip abroad as first lady.
Obama and Calderon are also expected to discuss drug violence that has affected both sides of the border. More than 22,700 people have been killed since Calderon deployed tens of thousands of troops and federal police across the country in December 2006 in an offensive against drug traffickers.
The U.S. has been a strong supporter of the offensive, providing training and equipment under the $1.3 billion Merida Initiative. The Obama administration has earned praise from Mexico for repeatedly acknowledging that U.S. drug consumption is a large part of the problem.
Other issues expected to be on the agenda include:
-- Climate change. Calderon has worked to make Mexico a global leader on the issue. His country hosts the next round of international climate negotiations in December in Cancun.
-- The economy. The White House expects both sides to come away from Wednesday's meetings with a number of concrete announcements about the ways in which both governments can work together to enhance economic competitiveness.
-- Cross-boarder trucking. Calderon is likely to raise the issue of Mexican trucks being denied access to the United States as a violation of the North American Free Trade Agreement. The administration official said Obama will reaffirm his commitment to working with Calderon and Congress to address the concerns.
Interior Secretary Admits Regulatory Lapse in Oil Industry Oversight Ben Evans
Washington (AP) -- Scientists are anxiously awaiting signals about where a massive oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico may be heading, while containment of the looming environmental catastrophe proves elusive.
With fears growing that the gushing well could spread damage from Louisiana to Florida, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar told a Senate panel Tuesday that his agency had been lax in overseeing offshore activities and that may have contributed to the disastrous spill.
"There will be tremendous lessons to be learned here," Salazar said in his first appearance before Congress since the April 20 blowout and explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig that killed 11 people.
Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen told another committee that the growing size and scattershot nature of the spill were creating "severe challenges" in containing it and cleaning it up. He called it more complicated than any spill he's ever seen.
"What we're basically trying to do is protect the whole coast at one time," Allen said.
The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee was set to address the spill at a hearing Wednesday.
Government scientists, meanwhile, were surveying the Gulf to determine if the oil had entered a powerful current that could take it to Florida and eventually up the East Coast. Tar balls that washed up on Florida's Key West were shipped to a Coast Guard laboratory in Connecticut to determine if they came from the spill.
Questions remained about just how much oil is spilling from the well, and senators expressed frustration about a lack of answers during a full day of hearings that included top executives from BP PLC, the oil giant that leased the blown well, and Transocean Ltd., the rig owner.
New underwater video released by BP showed oil and gas erupting under pressure in large, dark clouds from its crippled blowout preventer on the ocean floor. The leaks resembled a geyser on land.
Salazar promised an overhaul of federal regulations and said blame rests with both industry and the government, particularly his agency's Minerals Management Service.
"We need to clean up that house," Salazar said of the service.
Facing pressure from lawmakers at home, Mexican President Calderon has vowed to push for immigration reform during his trip to Washington.