The United States will be slashing hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras — also known as the Northern Triangle — according to the U.S. Department of State.
“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,” a department spokesperson told the Miami Herald in a statement. “We will be engaging Congress as part of this process.”
The aid affects about $500 million in 2018 funds and several millions more from the prior fiscal year, officials said. The money goes toward programs that address violence, poverty and employment.
On Friday, President Donald Trump took to Twitter, threatening to close the border, or at least stretches of it, next week if Mexican officials don’t “stop illegals from entering the U.S.”
Later on during an event in Florida, Trump accused the countries of “setting up” migrant caravans for entry into the United States.
“If they don’t stop it we will keep the border closed. And we will keep it stopped for a long time. I’m not playing games,” Trump said, according to pool reports. “I’ve ended payments to Guatemala, to Honduras and El Salvador. No more money is going there anymore,” Trump added. “We were giving them $500 million. We were paying them tremendous amounts of money, and we’re not paying them anymore because they haven’t done a thing for us.”
Trump’s comments came one day after Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen signed a “first-ever regional impact” with the three Central American countries. That document was not provided to the Miami Herald.
In a letter addressed to Congress, Nielsen called the “dire situation” at the border an “unsustainable,” “growing emergency.”
“Late last year, DHS was apprehending 50,000 to 60,000 migrants a month. Last month we encountered or apprehended more than 75,000, the highest in over a decade,” Nielsen wrote in the four-page letter.
She added: “And this month, we are on track to interdict nearly 100,000 migrants. Unlike previous flows, these migrants are not arriving in high numbers, one at a time. They are arriving in large groups. ... Our men and women on the frontlines are simply not resourced to handle these levels.”
A congressional delegation visiting El Salvador on Saturday said in a statement they were “extremely disappointed” about the fund cutoff and said they plan to “push back.”
“The president’s approach is entirely counterproductive. It will only result in more children and families being forced to make the dangerous journey north to the U.S.-Mexico border,” the statement said. Included in the delegation are New York Rep. Eliot L. Engel , California Rep. Zoe Lofgren and New York Rep. Jerrold Nadler.
The White House could not be reached for comment Saturday afternoon.