South American summit slams Arizona immigration law

France 24

May 4, 2010

AFP - South American leaders Tuesday slammed a controversial new immigration law in the US state of Arizona, but stressed they did not hold US President Barack Obama responsible.

The 12-nation UNASUR summit claimed the law could be used to "legitimize racist attitudes" against immigrants to the United States, most of whom are Latin Americans.

The leaders noted Obama had "expressed rejection" of the Arizona statute, as had other countries, and the head of the Organization of American States, Jose Miguel Insulza.

Arizona's legislation, which is to come into effect in three months' time, requires police to detain anybody they have "reasonable doubt" might be an illegal immigrant.

The text has sparked fierce debate in the United States, where fears of racial profiling are pitted against a perception of undocumented workers "stealing" US jobs or welfare.

In Latin America, formal protests have sprung up.

Mexico has already called the law "racial discrimination" and warned its citizens about traveling to Arizona.

Brazil Tuesday said the law "sacrifices the human rights of migrants."

At the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) summit held in Campana, a town just north of Buenos Aires, the presidents of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Paraguay and Venezuela, and the foreign ministers of Colombia, Guyana, Peru and Suriname made the protest region-wide.

In a joint statement, they said the Arizona law would "criminalize" people detained "on racial, ethnic, phenotype, language and migratory status."

Through its potential to reinforce racism, the legislation created "the latent risk for violence based on racial hatred," the statement said.

Arizona lies on the United States' southern border with Mexico and is a major point of entry for illegal immigrants drawn to the United States and its better economic prospects.

An estimated 460,000 illegal immigrants live in Arizona.

Obama last week criticized the new state law, but did so in cautious terms.

"These kinds of shortcuts, I think, will end up polarizing the situation instead of solving the problem," Obama told reporters.

He said it was "a mistake" to have police stop suspected illegal immigrants "because that carries a great amount of risk that core values that we all care about are breached."

At the same time, though, he said national immigration reform was needed.

"If you've got hundreds of thousands of people coming in, not playing by the rules, that's a problem. And the federal government has been abdicating on its responsibilities for a very long time on this issue," he said.

The US State Department has acknowledged that the Arizona law has created "international implications" in Mexico and elsewhere in Latin America.

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