Washington: President Felipe Calderon hit out at "discrimination" against Mexican immigrants in Arizona, as the row over the state`s draconian new immigration law risked overshadowing his US visit.
Calderon refused to hold his punches during his two-day state visit, strongly criticising a law that while popular in Arizona has enraged Hispanics and stoked fears of racial profiling.
"Despite their enormous contribution to the economy and society of the United States," Calderon said, millions of immigrants "still live in the shadows, and at times, like in Arizona, even face patterns of discrimination."
Calderon was welcomed at a red-carpet White House ceremony full of pomp and pageantry.
And the two leaders later toasted each other at a gala White House dinner that brought together a who`s who of Mexican and Mexican-American personalities, lightening the mood with entertainment by R and B diva Beyonce.
But earlier in close door talks, Calderon and Obama took up Mexico`s deep concern over the Arizona law, which Obama agreed "has the potential of being applied in a discriminatory fashion”.
The US President told a joint press conference he had directed the Justice Department to look "very carefully at the language of this law," and report back soon whether it "comports with our core values and... legal standards."
And he issued a new push for comprehensive immigration reform in the United States, to offer up to 12 million illegal immigrants, many of them Mexicans, a path to citizenship, which would also provide for strengthened US borders.
Most observers though suspect such a bill has little chance of being enacted amid the partisan fervour of a congressional election year, with immigration one of the most divisive political issues.
"I’ve got to have some support from Republicans," Obama said.
"I don`t expect to get every Republican vote, but I need some help in order to get it done."
The US and Mexican governments also bore the responsibility to ensure their joint border was secured, Obama said, before the two governments later issued a declaration on bolstering border enforcement.
Arizona Governor Jan Brewer has said the law, which has attracted broad support according to recent opinion polls, is needed to help secure the state`s porous border, one of the main entry points for illegal immigrants in the US.
Calderon faces immense domestic pressure to seek US immigration reform in the wake of the new law, which allows the detention of people suspected of being in the country illegally.