President Trump announced Friday that he is cutting aid to three Central American countries in response to a surge in the number of migrants headed north toward the U.S. in recent days.
“I’m not playing games. I've ended payments to Guatemala, to Honduras and to El Salvador,” Trump said Friday. “No more money is going there anymore. 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. They set up these caravans.”
Here’s what you need to know about the Trump administration’s latest moves on immigration:
Why aid is being cut: Trump has accused the governments of the three Central American countries of being complicit in the flow of migrants northward, and cutting aid is apparently intended to punish those governments. The president has repeatedly referred to foreign countries “sending” migrants to the U.S., most famously during the 2016 campaign, when he said: “When Mexico sends its people, they're not sending their best.” And Trump recently mocked the idea that Latin American migrants coming to the U.S. are fleeing violence and in need of asylum. “It’s a big fat con job, folks,” Trump said at a rally in Michigan.
How much money is involved: Current estimates put the aid figure at roughly $700 million. The State Department said Saturday that the money was appropriated in the 2017 and 2018 fiscal years, and that the department would be “be engaging Congress as part of this process” of cutting off the aid.
The U.S. Global Leadership Coalition, a group of retired diplomats, military leaders and lawmakers, said that “U.S. assistance to Central America is just 0.00035% of entire U.S. federal budget and has decreased by 20% in last two years.”
Will it work? Trump’s acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, defended the president’s move over the weekend, dismissing the views of “career staffers” at the State Department while arguing that continued flowed of immigrants Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador proves that the current U.S. strategy isn’t working. But administration officials were hard-pressed to explain how, exactly, cutting off aid would improve the situation.
Critics were quick to point out that U.S. aid is intended to help stabilize the Central American countries and eliminating it could lead to more violence and more emigration. “You are shooting yourself in the foot. It’s an irresponsible policy that undermines efforts to help address the drivers of migration,” said Adriana Beltrán of the Washington Office on Latin America, a non-profit advocacy group, on Sunday. “Instead of helping stabilize the situation, it makes it worse by gutting programs that had a positive impact.”
Anita Isaacs and Anne Preston of Haverford College wrote in The New York Times that “Trump is half right” because “paltry” U.S. aid isn’t doing much good, although they do credit a violence-prevention program in El Salvador with reducing homicide and possibly migration to the U.S. as a result.
At the same time, eliminating aid altogether is no solution, Isaacs and Preston said. “Cutting off foreign assistance is unlikely to persuade Central American governments to take actions that reduce the migratory flow,” they wrote. “If the Trump administration is serious about forcing the hand of Central American governments, it can’t just cut off aid — an alternative policy approach is urgently required. Rather than turn a blind eye to creeping authoritarianism, it should pressure governments to become more democratic and less beholden to corrupt elites and criminal networks.”