On Tillerson And Kelly Visit, Mexico Seeks 'Clarity' On Immigration Proposals

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Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (from left), Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray and Mexican Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong greet each other during a news conference in Mexico City on Thursday.

At a joint news conference in Mexico City on Thursday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson acknowledged the tension between the U.S. and Mexico. After talks with his Mexican counterpart, Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray, Tillerson said that "in a relationship filled with vibrant colors, two strong sovereign countries, from time to time, will have differences."

Standing beside him, Videgaray put a finer point on the matter: "There's a concern among Mexicans; there's irritation [about] what has been perceived as [U.S.] policies that might be harmful for the Mexicans and for the Mexican industry."

Thursday's talks — which were also attended by Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly and Mexican Interior Secretary Miguel Angel Osorio Chong — come just days after the Department of Homeland Security released a pair of memos that detailed how it would implement President Trump's Jan. 25 executive orders on immigration.

NPR's Camila Domonoske notes the two memos, which Kelly signed off on, spelled out a program that would dramatically increase and speed up the deportation of Mexican nationals from the U.S. — or, as Trump put it Thursday, would seek to get "bad dudes out of this country at a rate that nobody's ever seen before."

Mexican officials have been disinclined to see it that way.

In fact, they used Thursday's meeting to express "concern about the increase of deportations," Osorio Chong said. According to CNN, he added: "We do not agree on the different measures that recently were stated by the government of the United States [that] affect Mexico."

NPR's Carrie Kahn explains that one provision, in particular, in the DHS memos has upset Mexicans: "The DHS guidelines say that migrants who pass through Mexico into the U.S. would be returned to Mexico even if they're not Mexicans, to wait out their legal proceedings," Carrie reports. "Mexico is adamant that won't happen."

The two American secretaries, for their part, struck conciliatory tones in their statements Thursday. Kelly assured reporters that there would not be any mass deportations from the U.S., adding that the U.S. is focusing on getting criminal elements out of the country and deportations will be orderly and respectful of human rights, Carrie says.

For the U.S., Mexican cooperation — or recalcitrance — will have a big impact on its implementation of immigration policy. Mexico has been stopping and deporting many of the Central American migrants moving through the country to the U.S. illegally. And Mexican officials also must help substantiate and validate the fact that deported nationals are, in fact, Mexican citizens.

In such a tense political environment, many Mexican lawmakers have questioned why they ought to maintain this cooperation. President Enrique Peña Nieto's low approval numbers — he's one of Mexico's most unpopular presidents ever — appear to reflect Mexican voters' distaste for his moderate approach to Trump's proposals.

Ultimately, "clarity is absolutely essential" in this week's talks, Mexican economist Antonio Ortiz-Mena told NPR's David Greene.

The visit is "awkward but also necessary," Ortiz-Mena said, adding, "clarity would be greatly welcome — and also, the sense that Mexico is a partner, not an adversary, not a challenge but a trusted and reliable partner."

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