MEXICO CITY — U.S. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly pledged Thursday that America won't enlist its military to enforce immigration laws and that there will be "no mass deportations."
Only hours earlier, President Donald Trump suggested the opposite. "It's a military operation," Trump said Thursday at the White House.
Kelly's declarations came as senior Trump administration officials sought to temper Latin American concerns about a new U.S. immigration crackdown.
Speaking in Mexico City after he and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson met with their Mexican counterparts, Kelly said all deportations will honor human rights and the U.S. legal system. That includes multiple appeals offered to those facing deportation. Kelly said the U.S. approach will involve "close coordination" with Mexico's government.
"There will be no use of military forces in immigration," Kelly said. "There will be no — repeat, no — mass deportations."
Trump said the U.S. is "getting really bad dudes out of this country at a rate nobody has ever seen before."
He said it's a military operation "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 Trump's plan to target millions of people in the U.S. illegally for potential deportation — including many Mexicans.
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.
Kelly, Tillerson and their Mexican counterparts spoke before the two Americans planned to meet with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, an outspoken opponent of Trump's immigration plans, which include making Mexico pay for a border wall along the border.
Tillerson acknowledged the disputes that have damaged U.S.-Mexico relations in recent weeks. But he said the two countries were committed to working through their disagreements.
"In a relationship filled with vibrant colors, two strong sovereign countries from time to time will have differences," Tillerson said. "We listened closely and carefully to each other as we respectfully and patiently raised our respective concerns."