President Donald Trump holds a meeting with manufacturing CEOs at the White House on Thursday. Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo
Feb. 23 (UPI) -- The United States' top homeland security officer and President Donald Trump delivered conflicting messages Thursday regarding their new, tougher federal stance on illegal immigration.
During a meeting with Mexican officials in Mexico City on Thursday, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly promised that the U.S. government would not undertake an agenda involving mass deportations of undocumented immigrants from the United States.
"Let me be very, very clear: There will be no -- repeat no -- mass deportations," Kelly said at a joint news conference. "Everything we do in DHS will be done legally and according to human rights and the legal justice system of the United States."
He also pledged that American armed forces would not be involved in efforts to remove undocumented immigrants.
"This is something I would really like you all to pay attention to because it is frequently misrepresented or misreported," Kelly said.
The administration's new guidelines on immigration, announced this week, topped the agenda for Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto's government at Thursday's diplomatic meeting in the Mexican capital. Kelly was joined by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
Later Thursday, Trump said the military would be involved in immigration enforcement.
"It's a military operation because [drugs and gangs have] been allowed to come into our country," Trump said at a meeting at the White House with American business and manufacturing leaders.
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (middle left) and Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray (middle right) are joined by Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly (L) and Mexican Secretary of State Miguel Angel Osorio (R) at a joint news conference in Mexico City on Thursday. Kelly assured senior representatives of the Mexican government that there will be no mass deportations or military enforcement against Mexican immigrants living in the United States. Photo by Jose Mendez/European Pressphoto Agency
"You see what's happening at the border, all of the sudden for the first time, we are getting gang members out, we are getting drug lords out," he said. "We are getting really bad dudes out of this country."
U.S. Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement -- the two primary law enforcement branches responsible for immigration matters -- are civilian, not military, agencies.
The president praised Kelly's efforts so far as Homeland Security chief. In addition to the Mexico trip, Kelly toured the southern border last week.
On Tuesday, the Trump administration announced a more aggressive plan to enforce U.S. immigration laws and expand the pool of potential deportees -- a move that greatly concerned Mexican officials and the tens of thousands of Mexican nationals living in the United States.
"Immigrants bolster our economy," Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., tweeted Wednesday. "Mass deportation could cost $5 trillion over 10 years but comprehensive reform would save $197 billion in [the] same time frame."
Trump has insisted that his actions on immigration are rooted in national security, but critics say they are efforts to follow through on a series of discriminatory campaign promises -- such as barring Muslims from entering the country and building a border wall to keep immigrants out.
Trump was criticized for remarks he made last year on the campaign trail, when he implied that Mexican immigrants are "rapists" and "murderers" and disparaged a federal U.S. District Court judge for his Mexican heritage.