US Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly has pledged that America will not enlist its military to enforce immigration laws and that there will be “no mass deportations”.
The declarations came as senior Trump administration officials sought to temper Latin American concerns about a new US immigration crackdown.
Mr Kelly, speaking in Mexico City after he and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson met with their Mexican counterparts, said all deportations will honour human rights and the US legal system. That includes multiple appeals offered to those facing deportation.
Mr Kelly said the US approach will involve “close coordination” with Mexico’s government.
“There will be no use of military forces in immigration,” Mr Kelly said. “There will be no – repeat, no – mass deportations.”
Only hours earlier, President Donald Trump suggested the opposite. He said the US is “getting really bad dudes out of this country at a rate nobody has ever seen before”.
“It’s a military operation,” Mr Trump said at the White House during a meeting with manufacturing CEOs.
“Because what has been allowed to come into our country, when you see gang violence that you’ve read about like never before and all of the things, much of that is people who are here illegally. And they’re rough and they’re tough, but they’re not tough like our people. So we’re getting them out.”
Mexico and other Latin American nations have been on edge over Mr Trump’s plan to target millions of people in the US illegally for potential deportation – including many Mexicans.
Mr Trump spoke during the presidential campaign about using a “deportation force,” and his Homeland Security Department at one point considered using the National Guard to help with deportations, although the White House has said that idea has been ruled out.
Mr Kelly, Mr Tillerson and their Mexican counterparts spoke before the two Americans planned to meet with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, an outspoken opponent of Mr Trump’s immigration plans, which include making Mexico pay for a wall along the border.
Mr Tillerson acknowledged the disputes that have damaged US-Mexico relations in recent weeks. But he said the two countries were committed to working through their disagreements.
“In a relationship filled with vibrant colours, two strong sovereign countries from time to time will have differences,” Mr Tillerson said.
“We listened closely and carefully to each other as we respectfully and patiently raised our respective concerns.”