Mexican President Felipe Calderon on Monday condemned Arizona's tough new immigration law as discriminatory and warned that relations with the U.S. border state will suffer.
The measure, which will make it a crime under state law to be an illegal immigrant, "opens the door to intolerance, hate, discrimination and abuse in law enforcement," Calderon said.
Calderon said he had instructed the Foreign Relations Department to double its efforts to protect the rights of Mexicans living in the United States and seek help from lawyers and immigration experts.
"Nobody can sit around with their arms crossed in the face of decisions that so clearly affect our countrymen," Calderon said in a speech at the Institute for Mexicans Abroad.
The Arizona law restored immigration to the forefront of U.S.-Mexico relations, which had largely been focused on deeper cooperation in the drug war.
Sonora state cancels meeting
The government of the Mexican state of Sonora — which borders Arizona — announced it would not attend a cooperation meeting the two states have held annually for four decades. The meeting of the Sonora-Arizona Commission was set for June in Phoenix, Arizona.
"This is not about a breaking of relations with Arizona, but rather a way to protest the approval of the law," the state government said in a statement.
The law, set to take effect in late July or August, will require police to question people about their immigration status if they suspect they are there illegally. Day laborers can be arrested for soliciting work if they are in the U.S. illegally, and police departments can be sued if they don't carry out the law.
The chief of the Organization of American States also criticized the legislation.
"We consider the bill clearly discriminatory against immigrants, and especially against immigrants from Latin America," Jose Miguel Insulza said during a visit to El Salvador.
Calderon said trade and political ties with Arizona will be "seriously affected," although he announced no concrete measures.
Mexican politicians, church leaders and others have criticized Calderon for not taking a tougher stance against the law.
Some Mexican legislators have urged a trade boycott against Arizona, and several called the federal government's response lukewarm.
"In Congress, we support any trade and transport boycott necessary to reverse this law," said Oscar Martin Arce, a lawmaker from the president's National Action Party.
Mexico is Arizona's largest foreign market. The U.S. state sent $4.5 billion in exports to Mexico in 2009 — nearly a third of its total exports, according to the U.S. International Trade Administration.
Warning of economic harm
Andres Ibarra, president of the chamber of commerce in Nogales, a Mexican city across the border from Nogales, Arizona, said he doubted the government would impose a formal trade boycott, saying it would hurt Mexico most.
Even so, he warned the immigration law would harm Arizona economically. Ibarra said the U.S. state depends heavily on cheap labor from Mexican immigrants and any surge in deportations would make the state less competitive.
Arizona is home to an estimated 460,000 illegal immigrants.
"It's regrettable. I think this was a hasty decision that did not consider the consequences, not only for Mexicans and undocumented people from other countries, but also for the Arizona economy," Ibarra said. "Immigrants, as everyone knows, do the work that Americans don't want to do."
"This campaign is completely based on racism. It's a xenophobic campaign," he added.
Calderon said he would raise his concerns with President Barack Obama and U.S. lawmakers during a visit to Washington in May.
Obama has called the Arizona law misguided and instructed the U.S. Justice Department to examine it to see if it's legal.
Warming U.S.-Mexico relations
Supporters of the law say it is necessary to protect Arizonans from a litany of crimes that they contend are committed by illegal immigrants.
The law comes as relations between Mexico and the U.S. had been steadily warming.
Washington is a strong supporter of Calderon's military-led offensive against drug cartels, 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.
Two weeks ago, Michelle Obama chose Haiti and Mexico for her first solo trip abroad as U.S. first lady. She nurtured a friendship with Mexican first lady Margarita Zavala, a vocal advocate for thousands of Mexican children who immigrate alone to the U.S. in search of their parents and are often deported unaccompanied.
The cooperation in the drug war had largely overshadowed lingering tensions between the two countries over immigration.
The Calderon government expressed disappointment when U.S. lawmakers failed to agree in 2007 on an overhaul to the U.S. immigration system.
The Obama administration has promised to make immigration reform a priority, but the issue has taken a back seat amid the U.S. economic crisis.