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Homeland Security Secretary Kelly: No use of US military to enforce immigration

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.

Mexico has been incensed that the U.S. announced without Mexico’s sign-off that people caught crossing the border illegally will be sent back to Mexico even those from third countries who have no connection to Mexico. Interior Secretary Miguel Angel Osorio Chong, Kelly’s Mexican counterpart, said that concern had come up Thursday, too. Both countries said it was positive that the neighbors remained committed to working through the disputes diplomatically, though there were no indications they were any closer to a resolution. As the Americans wrapped up their Mexico visit, they remained at odds with their hosts over the deportations and over the massive border wall Trump has vowed to construct at Mexico’s expense. Trump spoke during the presidential campaign about using a “deportation force.” 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.

The Homeland Security Department didn’t immediately respond to requests to clarify why Trump’s remark about “a military operation” had conflicted with that of Kelly, who blamed the media for “misreporting.” At the White House, spokesman Sean Spicer said Trump hadn’t been speaking literally. He said Trump used the “military operation” phrase “as an adjective” to describe the precision with which immigration enforcement was being carried out. Tillerson and Kelly also met behind closed doors with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto before returning to Washington. Pena Nieto recently canceled a trip to Washington over Trump’s insistence that Mexico pay for the wall. It has not been rescheduled. In addition to sending border-crossers from third countries into Mexico, new memos signed by Kelly this week call for prioritizing deportation for anyone charged or convicted of any crime, rather than just serious crimes. That potentially subjects millions in the U.S. illegally to deportation, many Mexicans included.

Those policies have stoked fears in Mexico about the possibility of deportee and refugee camps emerging along Mexico’s northern border. Mexican officials were also apprehensive that a forthcoming report ordered by Trump’s administration listing all current U.S. aid to Mexico is intended to threaten Mexico into compliance over immigration or the wall.

Mexico has also raised concerns about Trump’s pledge to overhaul the trade relationship and possibly apply steep taxes to Mexican products, a move with profound impacts for Mexico’s export-heavy economy. Tillerson said the leaders had agreed the trade relationship needed to be modernized and strengthened.

Associated Press writer Mark Stevenson in Mexico City and Jonathan Lemire in New York contributed to this report.

Kelly: No use of US military to enforce immigration

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.

Mexico has been incensed that the U.S. announced without Mexico’s sign-off that people caught crossing the border illegally will be sent back to Mexico even those from third countries who have no connection to Mexico. Interior Secretary Miguel Angel Osorio Chong, Kelly’s Mexican counterpart, said that concern had come up Thursday, too. Both countries said it was positive that the neighbors remained committed to working through the disputes diplomatically, though there were no indications they were any closer to a resolution. As the Americans wrapped up their Mexico visit, they remained at odds with their hosts over the deportations and over the massive border wall Trump has vowed to construct at Mexico’s expense. Trump spoke during the presidential campaign about using a “deportation force.” 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.

The Homeland Security Department didn’t immediately respond to requests to clarify why Trump’s remark about “a military operation” had conflicted with that of Kelly, who blamed the media for “misreporting.” At the White House, spokesman Sean Spicer said Trump hadn’t been speaking literally. He said Trump used the “military operation” phrase “as an adjective” to describe the precision with which immigration enforcement was being carried out. Tillerson and Kelly also met behind closed doors with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto before returning to Washington. Pena Nieto’s office said he told the visitors that Mexico’s top priorities are “the protection of Mexicans in the United States and respect for their rights.” The U.S. declined to release any details about what was discussed in the meeting. Pena Nieto recently canceled a trip to Washington over Trump’s insistence that Mexico pay for the wall. It has not been rescheduled.

In addition to sending border-crossers from third countries into Mexico, new memos signed by Kelly this week call for prioritizing deportation for anyone charged or convicted of any crime, rather than just serious crimes. That potentially subjects millions in the U.S. illegally to deportation, many Mexicans included. Those policies have stoked fears in Mexico about the possibility of deportee and refugee camps emerging along Mexico’s northern border. Mexican officials were also apprehensive that a forthcoming report ordered by Trump’s administration listing all current U.S. aid to Mexico is intended to threaten Mexico into compliance over immigration or the wall. Mexico has also raised concerns about Trump’s pledge to overhaul the trade relationship and possibly apply steep taxes to Mexican products, a move with profound impacts for Mexico’s export-heavy economy. Tillerson said the leaders had agreed the trade relationship needed to be modernized and strengthened.

___

Associated Press writer Mark Stevenson in Mexico City and Jonathan Lemire in New York contributed to this report.

US-backed Iraqi Forces Take Control of Mosul Airport

Iraq said Thursday that its U.S.-backed forces have retaken the airport in Mosul that had been controlled by the extremist Islamic State group since 2014. In a flash on its screen, state television declared, “The Rapid Response Forces and federal police are fully in control of the airport of Mosul.”

Iraqi forces launched a new bid to retake the western areas of Iraq’s second city on Sunday after saying in late January they had liberated eastern parts of the city. Iraqi Lieutenant General Raid Shakir Jaudat said Baghdad’s forces, backed by drones and heavy artillery, advanced on the airport from several positions, with little Islamic State resistance. Its takeover gives Iraqi troops access to the city from the southwest and for the first time control of an area along the west bank of the Tigris River.

Another commander, Hisham Abdul Kadhem, said, “Right now, thank God, we’re inside Mosul airport and in front of its terminal. Our troops are liberating it.”

US-backed Iraqi Forces Take Control Of Mosul Airport

Iraqi security officers place a suspected Islamic State group member into the back of a waiting pickup truck, in east Mosul, Feb. 21, 2017. Little was left inside the airport, and what was once a runway was littered with dirt and debris. Other buildings in the airport complex had been leveled by Islamic State forces. The Iraqi forces also seized an Islamic State weapons storage warehouse, as well its one-time headquarters and barracks.

But the advance to retake the remainder of western Mosul may take some time. It took three months for Iraqi forces to seize control of the eastern part of the city. U.S. forces have played a key role in the advance of Baghdad’s troops, launching airstrikes and providing advisers on the ground. On Thursday, U.S. forces were seen in the front lines of the attack. The American forces are not supposed to be engaged in the fighting under Washington’s terms of the U.S. involvement in Iraq. But a coalition spokesman, Air Force Colonel John Dorrian, said Wednesday that in recent weeks they have gotten so close to the front that they have come under attack near Mosul and returned fire.

Thousands of Iraqi forces have been involved in the advance on Mosul, while U.S. officials say they believe that only about 2,000 jihadists remain in the city. But the fight for control of densely populated western Mosul is likely to be fierce. It includes the Old City and its narrow streets, which are impassable for some military vehicles.

US-backed Iraqi Forces Take Control Of Mosul Airport

Iraqi security forces search a civilian in the city of Mosul. Security forces search the liberated eastern part of the city for suspected Islamic State group members still living in the town, Feb. 21, 2017. Residents of western Mosul report that food supplies are dwindling, but residents on the liberated eastern side of the city are expressing their support. On Wednesday, an army plane dropped thousands of letters from residents of the retaken eastern side into the western area.

One letter said, “Be patient and help each other… the end of injustice is near.” It was signed “People from the east side.”

Earlier this week, U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis visited Iraq and vowed that the U.S. will support Iraq in its fight against Islamic State jihadists. When asked if the United States would stay in Iraq after the battle for Mosul had ended, he said, “I imagine we’ll be in this fight for a while and we’ll stand by each other.”

There are an estimated 750,000 civilians in western Mosul, essentially under siege by Iraqi forces, along with IS fighters. Many of those civilians in western Mosul were forced out of the eastern part of the city during heavy fighting there last month.

Meanwhile, aid agencies are worried and preparing for the possibility that up to 250,000 people might flee Mosul in the coming days or weeks.

The U.N. refugee agency has said it focusing its efforts on building new camps to house the displaced. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has completed eight camps and says it is planning to start work at another site south of Mosul.