By ASSOCIATED PRESS 03/30/2019 07:01 PM EDT
Taking drastic action over illegal immigration, President Donald Trump moved Saturday to cut direct aid to El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, whose citizens are fleeing north and overwhelming U.S. resources at the southern border.
The State Department notified Congress that it would look to suspend 2017 and 2018 payments to the trio of nations, which have been home to some of the migrant caravans that have marched through Mexico to the U.S. border.
Amplified by conservative media, Trump has turned the caravans into the symbol of what he says are the dangers of illegal immigration — a central theme of his midterm campaigning last fall. With the special counsel’s Russia probe seemingly behind him, Trump has revived his warnings of the caravans’ presence.
Trump also has returned to a previous threat he never carried out — closing the border with Mexico. He brought up that possibility on Friday and revisited it in tweets Saturday, blaming Democrats and Mexico for problems at the border and beyond despite warnings that a closed border could create economic havoc on both sides.
“It would be so easy to fix our weak and very stupid Democrat inspired immigration laws,” Trump tweeted Saturday. “In less than one hour, and then a vote, the problem would be solved. But the Dems don’t care about the crime, they don’t want any victory for Trump and the Republicans, even if good for USA!?
A group of House Democrats visiting El Salvador denounced the administration’s decision to cut aid to the region.
“As we visit El Salvador evaluating the importance of U.S. assistance to Central America to address the root causes of family and child migration, we are extremely disappointed to learn that President Trump intends to cut off aid to the region,” said the statement from five lawmakers, including Rep. Eliot Engel of New York, who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “The President’s approach is entirely counterproductive.”
The Trump administration has threatened before to scale back or cut off U.S. assistance to Central America. Congress has not approved most of those proposed cuts, however, and a report this year by the Congressional Research Service said any change in that funding would depend on what Congress does.