May 18, 2010 / 5:06 PM / 8 years ago

PREVIEW-Immigration, drugs dominate Mexico leader's US visit

* Calderon says immigration on agenda at U.S. state visit

* Rising drug violence on U.S.-Mexico border key issue

* Mexico says U.S. should reduce drug consumption

By Mica Rosenberg

MEXICO CITY, May 18 (Reuters) - Mexican President Felipe Calderon will challenge Arizona’s crackdown on illegal immigrants when he meets U.S. President Barack Obama this week to discuss problems like surging drug violence along the shared border.

Calderon will be only the second foreign leader, after India’s prime minister last November, to be received at the Obama White House with a state dinner, building on ties forged during Obama’s two official visits to Mexico.

Trade between the two countries surpasses $1 billion dollars a day, with Mexico sending more than 80 percent of its exports to the United States. The U.S. government is funneling hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to help Mexico equip its security forces to fight powerful drug cartels.

Yet Arizona’s new law to tackle illegal immigration, called "discriminatory" and "backward" by Calderon, has strained a bilateral relationship marked by regular ups and downs.

"We are bringing our protest to the United States government, during my state visit and in front of the U.S. Congress," Calderon told Reuters in an interview last week, ahead of his meeting with Obama on Wednesday.

The new Arizona law, which comes into force in July, will require police to check the immigration status of people they suspect are in the country illegally.

Calderon’s government has issued a travel warning for the state, signaling Mexicans citizens could be harassed by law enforcement officials there.

Obama has vowed to tackle comprehensive immigration reform. A major overhaul looks unlikely this year as Washington has been bogged down with health care and financial regulation, but the Arizona crackdown has turned attention back to the issue.

"Immigration has exploded back onto the agenda. I don’t think, in the context of planning the state visit, that was anticipated," said Eric Farnsworth, vice president at the Council of the Americas in Washington.

"Both governments at the national level agree that (the Arizona law) is not the right approach. You’re going to have both presidents stand shoulder to shoulder talking about the need to address immigration," he said. ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ For FACTBOX on U.S.-Mexico relations: [ID:nN18173770] For a TAKE A LOOK on U.S.-Mexico relations: [ID:nN14146572] ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^>


Obama and Calderon will also discuss cooperation to crush drug gangs whose escalating turf wars and battles with federal forces in Mexico have killed some 23,000 people since Calderon took office in Dec. 2006 and launched an army offensive.

The apparent abduction on Friday of a prominent ruling party politician and former presidential candidate has alarmed Mexico, with many reading it as an ominous sign drug cartels or other organized crime groups may be targeting the government.

The spiraling violence worries foreign investors and makes some tourists nervous about visiting Mexico, and drug-related abductions have spilled over to the U.S. side of the border.

Most of a $1.4 billion aid package for drug-fighting gear pledged by the U.S. government in 2007 has been slow to arrive, but the State Department told Reuters recently that three Black Hawk helicopters will be delivered in October. [ID:nN06127283]

The United States is also trying to stop the southbound flow of cash and guns that end up in the hands of drug hitmen, said Daniel Restrepo, Obama’s top advisor on Latin America.

Calderon recently praised Obama’s efforts to curb drug consumption in the United States, the No. 1 market for illegal drugs like Colombian cocaine smuggled north via Mexico.

Restrepo said climate change and trade issues will also be on the agenda for Wednesday’s meeting.

Mexico is waiting for the United States to unveil a plan to let Mexican trucks circulate again on U.S. roads, which could end a dispute that prompted Mexico last year to slap duties on $2.4 billion worth of U.S. goods. (Additional reporting by Patricia Zengerle in Washington; Editing by Kieran Murray)

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