Mexico President Calderon wraps up Houston visit


Calderon is getting ready to head back to Mexico after talking to local community leaders about some of the very issues he's emphasized in his six-year-long presidency.

In his last public engagement of his quick trip to Houston, President Calderon addressed a crowd of a few hundred at the Ripley House Community Center east of downtown.

In his message was a thought on immigration.

"I want to be very clear. We are respectful of U.S. sovereignty. But we have to be firmly against those initiatives that tend to criminalize those that are not committing a crime," Calderon said during an hour-long speech to more than 200 Mexican immigrants at a community center in Houston.

"He wanted to be able to touch base with the community. This was a way for him to kind of explain his policies regarding immigrants here in the US and immigrants coming back to Mexico," Houstonian Jose Villareal said.

Calderon said he isn't interested in promoting Mexican immigration to the U.S., but he wants to ensure that Mexican immigrants in the U.S. can live and work in dignity. He said immigrants who commit crimes in the U.S. should face consequences.

"As president I am not interested that more people leave Mexico. It hurts. Community leaders leave; families are broken," he said. "The people who are here have elemental rights, such as respect for their dignity."

It's the same issue Calderon has tackled with American leaders arguing for immigration reform. That message was tailored to Houstonians, including former Harris County Commissioner Sylvia Garcia.

"He emphasized that Mexico doesn't encourage or doesn't want people from Mexico to leave their country," Garcia said.

Calderon also talked about the drug war, the hallmark of his presidency. He began pursuing drug traffickers with troops not long after talking office in 2006.

With cheers and laughs and clapping, it was a message that found a receptive audience.

"He a credible man. I think the fact that he was willing to come out to the community and talk to people, his credibility is very high," said one man who attended his speech.

Outside the Ripley House though were protesters, people asking Calderon to veto a change to article 24 of Mexico's constitution. It's a change that would allow religious observance outside houses of worship with permission from the government.

"It's the catholic religion that's going to be taught in the schools in the future, they're opening the door," protester Samuel Gray said.

But Mexico's president surprised the protesters themselves, by stopping to shake hands and exchange a few words. It left even the protesters optimistic about what Calderon is doing in the last days of his administration.

Earlier Wednesday, under a newly flown Mexican flag and with a large contingent in his motorcade, President Calderon addressed about 160 of the city's top business leaders. We're told his speech inside Houston's Federal Reserve building centered on mutual trade, something many of those in attendance were anxious to hear given that they believe both sides are benefiting.

"I think it's a good opportunity for Houston to become more involved in the Mexican economy, which is improving," said Gary Littlestar with Smart Pipe Company.

"I think there's a lot of investment now coming from Mexico in the Houston area. And I think we can help as a city to welcome that," said Mar Sappington with Cobb, Finley and Associates.

"A lot of Mexican companies are coming to Houston to do business and are taking advantage of all of the opportunities that Houston brings in Texas," said Carlos, a Mexican businessman.

Some are calling this a farewell tour for Calderon, whose term as president is up this December. We know that after he left the fed building he asked to meet with Mayor Annise Parker and with former Secretary of State James Baker and that he set the agenda for their discussions. But we assume they were business-centric, too.

While business was certainly the focus, there are those who want him to talk immigration reform while he's here.

"I hope he urges the United States to be more proactive on immigration issues, to come up with a comprehensive immigration reform policy. It's long overdue," said State Rep. Carol Alvarado.

Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia extended his wishes to Calderon that his successor continue the president's aggressive stand against drug gangs.

"The success of them in their fight against the cartels is our success in keeping Harris County as safe as possible," said Sheriff Garcia.

Calderon's visit also faced scrutiny by some people. They think the president should have addressed a larger public group.

Wednesday's visit to Houston comes at the tail end of Calderon's working tour in the US. He heads back to Mexico on Thursday.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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