US President Donald Trump has toughened his stance against Central America by attempting to cut aid to three Central American countries just hours after he threatened to close the US border with Mexico as early as next week if its government did not immediately stop immigrants from illegally crossing.
The State Department said on Saturday that it was implementing the president’s instruction and ending assistance programmes to El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, and would engage with Congress on the issue.
However, experts say the president may not unilaterally be able to cut off assistance to the so-called Northern Triangle countries. Andrew Selee, president of the Migration Policy Institute, tweeted: “Note that there is a notification period required to suspend aid and Congress may want to weigh in, so there is no guarantee that they are really suspending aid, but they have started the process.”
Writing on Twitter on Friday about the Mexican border, Mr Trump said it would be “so easy” for Mexico to stop undocumented migrants crossing its border into the US.
“We lose so much money with them, especially when you add in drug trafficking etc, that the Border closing would be a good thing!”, Mr Trump added. Later, he told reporters that “with a deficit like we have with Mexico and have had for many years, closing the border will be a profitmaking operation.”
Mr Trump made a similar threat to shut the Mexican border in December while the government was shut down over lawmakers’ refusal to agree a spending package that would fund the building of a wall along the border.
The latest threats come as Mr Trump — fresh off the first public glimpse of the conclusions from Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election — returns to some of his favoured political talking points, including immigration.
US officials have voiced concerns in recent weeks about an apparent spike in attempts to cross the border illegally. Kevin McAleenan, US Customers and Border Protection commissioner, told reporters this week that the US-Mexico border was at “breaking point” and that migrants — especially families and children — were “creating a humanitarian crisis.”
In February, Mr Trump declared a national emergency in an effort to bypass lawmakers and secure funding for his planned wall, drawing criticism from both parties.
Earlier this month Mr Trump was forced to issue the first veto of his presidency after legislation overturning his declaration of an emergency was passed by Congress with significant support from Republican lawmakers.
An attempt to overturn the presidential veto failed earlier this week, however, when the US House of Representatives failed to gather the required two-thirds majority.
“We’re not going to argue over these issues,” he told his daily news conference on Friday. “We believe you have to solve the problem, the phenomenon of migration, by addressing the root causes through growth, jobs and welfare.”
Mr Trump, who until now has heaped praise on Mr López Obrador, on Friday accused Mexico of doing nothing to halt migration — “they just take our money and talk,” he tweeted.
But the Mexican president sought to play down suggestions of a rift with the country’s top trading partner, just as ratification of the new USMCA free-trade pact hangs in the balance.
“I don’t want to make too much of this . . . We are doing our job and I’m not going to argue about that, I’m going to be very careful for a variety of reasons not least that we want a very good relationship with the US government,” Mr López Obrador said.
“We are going to help collaborate . . . we’re going to continue helping so that the migrant flow, passing through our country, is done within the law, in an orderly fashion, that human rights are respected, that is what we are doing,” he said.
In the past year, thousands of migrants fleeing violence, political repression and economic hardship in the Northern Triangle of Central America — Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador — have formed into caravans to seek safety in numbers on the arduous journey and try to force the US to take them in.