The State Department confirmed Saturday that it will cut off aid to the Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador over allegations they promote undocumented immigration to the United States.
“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 State Department official told ThinkProgress in a statement. “We will be engaging Congress as part of this process.”
The move comes a day after President Donald Trump accused the three Central American nations of engineering a caravan of 2,500 migrants from across the region that is currently winding its way toward the United States.
“They set up these caravans,” Trump said at an event in Canal Point, Florida, on Friday. “In many cases, they put their worst people in the caravan; they’re not going to put their best in. They get rid of their problems. And they march up here, and then they’re coming into their country; we‘re not letting them in our country.”
Trump also threatened to close the U.S.-Mexico border next week, a decision that could dramatic affects on the U.S. economy.
Trump cited no evidence for his claims about the caravan, and officials in the Northern Triangle countries have denied that they are behind the caravans. The president has pushed false claims about migrant caravans in the past, saying that they included “Middle Easterners” with purported ties to terrorism or were being funded by Hungarian-American philanthropist George Soros.
The decision affects hundreds of millions of dollars in aid for programs aimed at addressing gang violence in the Northern Triangle that has driven many families to make the long trek north to seek asylum.
A group of House Democrats visiting El Salvador on Saturday called the funding cut “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 coalition said in a statement to The Washington Post.
Apprehensions at the country’s southern border have dropped steeply since 2000, from a high of 1.6 million in 2000 to 66,450 last month. But 36,174 were part of a “family unit,” a dramatic rise over the past few years that Border Patrol officials say have put a strain on their operations.
Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen called the situation on the southern border an “emergency” in a dramatic statement Friday. Nielsen blamed the spike in families crossing seeking asylum on “outdated laws and misguided court decisions” that grant migrant children and families greater legal protections.
“Smugglers and traffickers know that our laws make it easier to enter and stay if you show up as a family,” Nielsen said, though she did not cite evidence for this claim.
The cut in aid comes two days after Nielsen signed a compact with the Northern Triangle countries on border security.
“I look forward to implementing this historic agreement and working with my Northern Triangle counterparts to help secure all of our nations and to end the humanitarian and security crisis we face,” Nielsen said in a statement. “Together we will prevail.”