U.S. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson have promised Mexico no “mass deportations” or use of military force to expel immigrants.
The U.S. officials were moving to calm tensions over President Donald Trump’s vow to crack down on “bad dudes” illegally residing in his country.
“We’re getting really bad dudes out of this country, and at a rate that nobody’s ever seen before,” Trump said at the White House, describing the stepped-up deportation drive as “a military operation.”
But his spokesman Sean Spicer later told a news conference that Trump was using the term “military” simply “as an adjective” to mean “efficient.”
As Trump issued his warning, Kelly and Tillerson met on Thursday with Mexican ministers who expressed “concern and irritation” over the U.S. president’s combative stance on trade and migration ties with Mexico.
Trump has outraged the United States’ southern neighbor by vowing to build a wall along the border to keep out immigrants, and branding those from Mexico as rapists and criminals during his presidential campaign.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on Tuesday issued new orders to step up the arrest and deportation of illegal immigrants, many of them Mexicans.
But Kelly promised at a news conference in Mexico City that “there will be no, repeat, no mass deportations. Everything we do in the DHS will be done legally.”
“There will be no use of military force for immigration operations,” he added.
Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray, who met with Tillerson, said: “There exists among Mexicans concern and irritation about what are perceived to be policies that could be harmful for the national interest and for Mexicans here and abroad.”
“There are well-known differences and the best way to resolve them is through frank, clear dialogue,” he told a news conference.
Tillerson said the two sides “reiterated our joint commitment to maintaining law and order along our shared border by stopping potential terrorists and dismantling the transnational criminal networks moving drugs and people into the United States.”
The U.S. officials met later with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, who had canceled a planned meeting with Trump in Washington last month over the U.S. leader’s vow to make Mexico pay for the border wall.
Videgaray and Pena Nieto have been criticized at home for being too willing to engage with the Republican president.