MEXICO CITY – The United States will not carry out mass deportations of Mexican migrants, the head of the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said Thursday in Mexico’s capital.
John Kelly, who traveled to Mexico along with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to explain the new US administration’s stricter policies on illegal immigration, made his remarks in a joint news conference with Mexican officials and Tillerson.
“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.
Speaking just hours after US President Donald Trump told business leaders at the White House that criminal aliens would be removed from the country in a military operation, Kelly delivered a different message.
“There will be no use of military forces in immigration,” Kelly said.”
The White House later clarified that Trump, who galvanized many working-class Republican voters by vowing to build a wall on the US-Mexico border and crack down on illegal immigration, was using the term “military” as an adjective to mean that operations to round up and deport targeted individuals would be carried out in a highly professional manner.
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.
DHS memos that were issued earlier this week and are based on executive orders Trump signed last month state that, although serious criminals and recent arrivals will be prioritized, no undocumented migrants will be exempt from the possibility of deportation.
The new policy also is aimed at turning back much larger number of recent arrivals and preventing illegal immigrants from disappearing into the shadows while awaiting the outcome of their deportation proceedings and asylum case reviews.
To that end, it calls for officials to expedite the removal of undocumented migrants who have been in the country for up to two years (as opposed to a far briefer period of 14 days) and also seeks to have Mexico house at least some non-Mexicans pending resolution of their asylum cases, provided they entered the US via the Aztec nation.
Many of those caught crossing the US-Mexico border are Central American migrants who are fleeing violence and poverty and apply for asylum in the US.
In the lead-up to the US Cabinet secretaries’ visit, Mexican Foreign Secretary Luis Videgaray appeared to take aim at the plans to send non-Mexicans back across the border, warning Wednesday that Mexico would not accept immigration provisions that are unilaterally imposed on his country.
Tillerson, for his part, tried to ease tensions and seek common ground.
“We listened closely and carefully to each other as we respectfully and patiently raised our respective concerns,” he said. “There’s no mistaking that the rule of law matters on both sides of our border.”
Tillerson and Kelly were to meet later Thursday with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto.