Friday, May 24, 2024

Trump to end aid to 3 Central American countries over border crossings

President Trump said on Friday that there would be a “very good likelihood” that he would seal off the United States border with Mexico next week, even as he moved to punish Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador for migrant caravans by cutting off all foreign aid to the countries.

“I will close the border if Mexico doesn’t get with it,” Mr. Trump said to reporters who had gathered at Mar-a-Lago, his winter retreat in Florida. “If Mexico doesn’t stop it.” The moves escalated a sustained berating of countries he blames for being unable to stop the flow of migrants trying to make their way north.

At Mr. Trump’s direction, the State Department on Friday began the process of informing Congress that it intended to end the foreign aid. The State Department issued a statement late on Friday saying: “At the secretary’s instruction, we are carrying out the president’s direction and ending FY 2017 and FY 2018 foreign assistance programs for the Northern Triangle. We will be engaging Congress as part of this process.”

Mr. Trump has threatened to close off the border and cut off aid to the three countries — known as the Northern Triangle — several times before and has not followed through. But his comments on Friday signaled a new escalation and a diplomatic assault on America’s neighbors in the hemisphere as his administration confirmed that it would review ways to reshuffle Border Patrol agents, shut down traffic lanes and close ports of entry at the southwest border.

A full or partial sealing of the border would effectively close off the United States from one of its largest trading partners, but it could leave American citizens who cross back and forth with a sluggish or potentially nonexistent system of returning to the United States. “I’m not playing games,” Mr. Trump said on Friday, as he threatened to close the border with Mexico.

Mr. Trump’s decision to end the aid to the Central American countries is likely to anger members of Congress from both parties, who have supported spending money to try to address the root causes of the violence that has caused migrants to flee those countries to come to the United States.  Currently, the United States spends about $620 million a year for gang prevention programs and other initiatives aimed at helping support civil society in the three countries.

Advocates say that cutting the funds will only accelerate the migrant flows into the United States. But the president has repeatedly expressed anger that the United States sends money to the countries even as caravans of migrants make their way to the border.