In recent days, the Trump administration suggested that it might defray the cost of its border wall by canceling all of America’s existing aid to Mexico. It then floated the idea of deporting Central Americans seeking asylum in the United States to Mexico — essentially, using our southern neighbor as an open-air detention center for migrants while their legal appeals are being processed. And, of course, the administration also ramped up its efforts to deport undocumented immigrants.
So Thursday’s meeting between Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Homeland Security chief John Kelly, and officials from the Mexican government was always going to be tense. And the president didn’t ease those tensions when he described his deportation plan as a “military operation” in a meeting with manufacturing executives Thursday morning (weeks ago, Trump “joked” about sending the American military into Mexico to hunt down their “bad hombres”).
“Right now, Rex, who, as you know, he’s in Mexico. I said, ‘That’s gonna be a tough trip,’ because we have to be treated fairly by Mexico,” Trump told the executives. “That’s gonna be a tough trip.”
At their press conference with Mexico’s Secretary of Foreign Affairs Luis Videgaray Thursday afternoon, Tillerson and Kelly tried to strike diplomatic notes. Both officials emphasized America’s responsibility to keep illegal firearms from crossing the border into Mexico. And the former Exxon CEO championed the many sources of mutually beneficial cooperation between the two countries — particularly with regards to “trade and energy.”
“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.”
Videgaray offered similar pablum about the two nations’ deep ties and shared values. But he also expressed frustration about Trump’s myriad acts of geopolitical bullying.
“I want to say clearly and emphatically that the government of Mexico and the Mexican people do not have to accept provisions that one government unilaterally wants to impose on the other,” Videgaray told reporters. “We also have control of our borders and we will exercise it fully.”
Kelly, for his part, vehemently denied that the administration’s plans to drastically increase the deportation of undocumented immigrants could be fairly described as “mass deportation.”
“This is something I would really like you all to pay attention to because it is frequently misrepresented or misreported,” Kelly said. “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 further suggested that before being deported, immigrants would have the opportunity to contest their deportations through “multiple appeals.”
That claim seems to contradict part of the administration’s latest executive order. Per Vox’s Dara Lind:
It can take years after an immigrant is apprehended for that immigrant to get deported, because immigration courts are massively backlogged. The executive order signed by President Trump lays out a possible solution: sending people back “to the territory from which they came” while their cases are still pending in immigration court. Basically, it’s a “deport first and ask questions later” strategy.
Finally, Kelly said that there will be “no use of military force in immigration. At least half of you try to get that right.”