Trump plans to cut U.S. aid to 3 Central American countries in fight over U.S.-bound migrants

MEXICO CITY — President Trump plans to slash hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to three Central American countries in retaliation for what he called their lack of help in reducing the flow of migrants to the U.S. border. 

The move was one of Trump’s harshest yet as he escalates a confrontation with Mexico and Central America over a surge in irregular migration, largely involving children and families seeking asylum. 

Trump has already warned that he could close the U.S.-Mexico border — or at least large stretches of it — in the coming week unless Mexico takes further steps to halt the northward flow of migrants.

The State Department said in a statement Saturday that it would be “ending . . . foreign assistance programs for the Northern Triangle” — a region encompassing El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. The move would affect nearly $500 million in 2018 funds and millions more left over from the prior fiscal year. The money was destined for Central America but has not yet been spent.

Trump’s action was the culmination of a months-long battle in the U.S. government over the aid program, which grew substantially under the Obama administration and was intended to address the root causes of migration — violence, a lack of jobs and poverty.

Some Trump administration officials thought the program had failed to achieve enough results and in recent months have been looking into alternatives. But the president’s decision to cut off the remaining funds appeared to take many people by surprise. It came just a day after Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen signed what the department called a “historic” memorandum of cooperation on border security in Central America.

One former U.S. official said there was “chaos” in the State Department and U.S. embassies as officials tried to figure out whether they had to cancel existing contracts or simply not renew them. He spoke on the condition of anonymity because of diplomatic sensitivities. 

The number of apprehensions along the U.S.-Mexico border has been soaring, with more than 76,000 migrants taken into U.S. custody in February, most of them from Central America. On Friday night, during a trip to Florida, Trump faulted governments in the region for the increase. 

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