MEXICO CITY -- Seeking to tamp down growing unease in Latin America, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly pledged Thursday that the United States 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. He told CEOs at the White House the deportation push was a "military operation."
Kelly, speaking in Mexico's capital, said all deportations will comply with human rights requirements and the U.S. legal system, including its multiple appeals for those facing deportation.
He 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."
Yet while Kelly and U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson tried to alleviate Mexico's concerns, Trump was fanning them further, with tough talk about "getting really bad dudes out of this country at a rate nobody has ever seen before."
"It's a military operation," Trump said Thursday while his envoys were in Mexico City.
"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."
It was an altogether different message from Kelly and Tillerson, who traveled here to meet with top Mexican officials at a time of intense turbulence for U.S.-Mexico relations. Indeed, Trump acknowledged he had sent his top diplomat south of the border on a "tough trip."
In contrast to Trump, Tillerson and Kelly emphasized a U.S. commitment to work closely with Mexico on border security, illegal immigration and trafficking of drugs and weapons -- issues Trump has made a central focus of his young presidency, much to Mexico's dismay. Both Tillerson and Kelly appeared to downplay any major rift between the U.S. and Mexico.
"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."
For Mexico, that patience was running short. Foreign Relations Secretary Luis Videgaray noted the "public and notorious differences" between the countries and said the Mexicans had raised the "legal impossibility" of a government making "unilateral" decisions affecting another country. Videgaray has previously raised the prospect Mexico could seek recourse at the United Nations or elsewhere for U.S. moves violating international law.
"It is an evident fact that Mexicans feel concern and irritation over what are perceived as policies that may hurt Mexicans and the national interest of Mexicans here and abroad," Videgaray said.
The divergent tones from Trump and from his Cabinet officials left Mexico with an uncomfortable decision about whom to believe. Throughout Trump's first weeks, foreign leaders have grown increasingly skeptical as Trump's envoys deliver soothing messages that are then negated by the president.