MEXICO CITY – President Trump is planning to cut hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to three Central American countries in return for what he called their lack of help to reduce migrant flow to the US border.
The move was one of Trump's toughest anyway, as he escalates a confrontation with Mexico and Central America over an increase in irregular migration, largely involving children and families seeking asylum.
Trump has already warned that he could close the border between the United States and Mexico ̵
The Prime Minister said in a statement on Saturday that it would be "ending … foreign aid programs for the northern triangle" – a region that includes El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. The move will affect nearly $ 500 million in 2018 money and millions more back from the previous financial year. The money was destined for Central America, but has not yet been used.
Trump's action was the culmination of a month-long battle in the US government over the aid program, which grew significantly during the Obama administration, aimed at addressing the main causes of migration – violence, job shortages, and poverty.
Some Trump administration officials believed that the program had not achieved sufficient results, and in recent months, alternatives have been considered. But the president's decision to cut off the remaining funds seemed to take many people by surprise. It came a day after the National Security Minister Kirstjen Nielsen signed what the department called a "historic" memorandum on cooperation on border security in Central America.
A former US official said there were "chaos" in the state department and the US embassies as officials tried to find out whether to cancel existing contracts or simply do not renew them. He spoke on condition of anonymity because of diplomatic sensitivities.
The number of fears over the US-Mexico border has been increasing, with more than 76,000 immigrants taken in US custody in February, most of them from Central America. On Friday night, during a trip to Florida, Trump failed the governments of the region for the rise.
"I have completed payments to Guatemala, to Honduras and El Salvador. No more money goes there anymore," Trump told reporters. "We gave them $ 500 million. We paid them huge amounts of money and we no longer pay them because they haven't done anything for us."
Democratic officials, auxiliaries, and former officials said Trump's action could boomerang by to reduce or eliminate some of the great programs that would be migrants in Central America.
"Ironically, our goal of having people stay and thrive in El Salvador is very similar to the current administration," said Ken Baker, CEO of Glasswing International, who runs education, health and entrepreneurial programs in El Salvador and receives financing from the US International Development Agency. "Through our programs we have been able to provide opportunities and the belief that they [would-be migrants] can thrive here."
"The key is to get to them before" they go to the United States, he said. "When you talk about the problem at the US border, it's already too late."
Jim Nealon, a former US ambassador to Honduras, said that Trump did not seem to understand how Central American utility works. The US government does not give money to foreign governments, but rather "to programs designed and implemented by the United States, with government and civil society cooperation," he said. Much of the support is administered by non-profit groups.
He also said that US governments do not seek to send their citizens to the United States. "On the contrary, they are already working with us to deter migration. But they cannot prevent their citizens from leaving the country."
Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala are among the poorest countries in the hemisphere and among the most violent in the world.
Over the past year, Trump has embarked on the formation of giant caravans of American bound migrants as evidence that Mexico and Central America are doing little to counter irregular migration. On Saturday he warned in a tweet that he would close the southern border unless Mexico used "his very strong immigration laws to stop the thousands of people trying to enter the United States."
The authorities in the region have said they are taking the measures they can according to their laws. Mexico has, for example. Offered thousands of temporary humanitarian visas to migrants who allow them to stay and work in the country.
Raúl López, Deputy Minister of Justice in El Salvador, said on an Friday interview that the refugee of immigrants from his country was actually slowing down.
"We see it as proof that our investment – and the international investment community – are working on social issues," he said. "OS assistance has had a positive impact on reducing migration from El Salvador, but we need more help to continue this struggle."
It was unclear whether Congress would try to block Trump's decision to move it Central American assistance elsewhere. A delegation of Congress Democrats who visited El Salvador on Saturday called the management movement "counterproductive" and said they would "do everything possible to curb the president's misleading approach to Central America." The group included Rep. Eliot L. Engel (NY), Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee and Rep. Jerrold Nadler (NY), Chairman of the House Court Committee.
The Congress grants the money used by the US Government, but the President has some declining space to reprogram funds, according to King's staff.
Adam Isaacson, a senior official at the Washington Office for Latin America, a research and advocate group, said US presidents have been forced away from reprogramming money because it annoys lawmakers who can retaliate by funding for central administration projects. "It's just a strong, strong custom" in Congress, he said. "If you go against our will on this, we'll get you in the next bill."
Unauthorized crossing of the US border has hit their highest level in a decade, although they are still well below the peak of 1.6 million in 2000. But the migratory flow has changed in character. Most immigrants used to be Mexican men who could easily be deported, but now they are asylum-seeking families who are entitled to some protection under federal law.
Border Patrol agents have been overwhelmed in recent weeks by the arrival of a large number of Central American families, many of whom are quickly released to communities due to lack of detention.
The message about the support cut-off comes as a caravan with approx. 2,000 Central Americans and Cubans cross Mexico. Trump has threatened to close the border in the coming week because of the rising migrant flow.
The president has also declared a national emergency to divert funds for the construction of a huge border wall, but he is facing court challenges. Immigration analysts say a wall would do little to stop the refugee of asylum seekers who typically surrender US officials to request relief as soon as they come to US soil.
Anna-Catherine Brigida of Mexico City and John Hudson and Nick Miroff of Washington contributed to this report.