MEXICO CITY – US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly on Thursday downplayed the aggressive comments of President Donald Trump regarding stricter policies on illegal immigration in a tense visit to Mexico City, putting some of the responsibility for the problem on Central America.
“Let me be very, very clear: There will be no – repeat, no – mass deportations. Everything we do in DHS will be done legally and according to human rights and the legal justice system of the United States,” Kelly said in a joint statement with Tillerson, along with Mexican Foreign Secretary Luis Videgaray and Interior Secretary Miguel Angel Osorio Chong.
“There will be no use of military forces in immigration,” Kelly said twice during his remarks.
Speaking just hours after US President Donald Trump told more than 20 key US business leaders at the White House that criminal aliens would be removed from the country in a military operation, Kelly delivered a different message.
Trump said that Kelly has been “unbelievable at the border” because “for the first time we’re getting gang members out, we’re getting drug lords out ... really bad dudes out of this country ... at a rate that nobody has ever seen before.”
“It’s a military operation,” the president said, by which the White House later clarified he meant that capture and deportation operations for targeted individuals would be carried out in a highly professional manner.
But in addition to throwing cold water on the president’s remarks, Kelly emphasized the importance of “close cooperation” with Mexico on the matter and revealed that the US officials in their conversations with their Mexican counterparts had spoken about the need to reduce the reasons for deportations of migrants from Central America.
Many of the illegal migrants entering the US through Mexico come from Central America and Kelly said that that region’s lack of economic opportunities is what motivates people from there to take significant risks trying to get to the US.
Meanwhile, Videgaray announced that the Mexican and US governments agreed to hold a meeting with El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, Canada, Colombia and others to deal with the immigration phenomenon and seek development policies that would create disincentives for the northward outflow of people from there.
That meeting must facilitate a “constructive dialogue” among nations with an eye toward creating “joint regional responsibility for Central American development,” he said.
Kelly and Tillerson arrived in the Mexican capital on Wednesday on a scheduled visit that began with a dinner with Videgaray, Defense Secretary Gen. Salvador Cienfuegos and Navy Secretary Adm. Vidal Francisco Soberon, as well as Attorney General Raul Cervantes.
On Thursday morning, they met with Videgaray, Osorio Chong and Mexican Treasury Secretary Jose Antonio Meade, a meeting that went 90 minutes longer than scheduled, sparking significant speculation among journalists and others prior to the officials’ joint appearance afterwards.
Kelly also stressed during the news conference that individuals with criminal records would be the focus of deportation efforts.
Those remarks were aimed at allaying concerns by Mexican officials that the Trump administration’s newly unveiled policies on illegal immigration would lead to a sharp uptick in deportations.
Tillerson and Kelly later met for an hour with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto at the Los Pinos presidential residence, a meeting that had been placed in doubt when Economy Secretary Ildefonso Guajardo warned that for it to come about “agreements” or “clear messages” or “elements of substance” would have to be made to justify it.
After the meeting, Peña Nieto issued a statement emphasizing the willingness of Mexico and the US to engage in dialogue “with respect for the sovereignty of both countries” and adding that Mexico intends to negotiate comprehensively and firmly in favor of its interests.
Mexico has been the target of Trump’s wrath since before he landed the Republican presidential nomination, with the mogul calling Mexican migrants “criminals” and “rapists,” threatening to tax remittances, make Mexico pay for the border wall he intends to build and renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement, which the US, Canada and Mexico signed in 1994.