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Mercosur Nations Strongly Criticize New EU Immigration Policy

South American leaders attending a summit of the regional trade bloc, Mercosur, have strongly criticized a new immigration policy adopted by the European Union last month.

The presidents voiced their opposition to the EU policy Tuesday, the last day of their two-day summit in Tucuman, Argentina.

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva described the EU measures as "xenophobic" while his Ecuadorean counterpart, Rafael Correa, called them "shameful."

The EU adopted the new immigration rules on June 18, and they are to take effect by 2010. The policy allows governments to detain illegal immigrants for up to 18 months and imposes a re-entry ban of up to five years.

Thousands of Latin Americans migrate to Europe in search of job opportunities.

The EU estimates eight to 12 million illegal immigrants live in Europe.

Mercosur members also discussed the global food crisis at their talks.

Mercosur was created in 1991 and includes Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay as full members. Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru are associate members. Venezuela expects to join as a full member.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.