The Trump administration will resume some foreign aid to Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador that was previously withheld, as officials worked to secure agreements to send U.S. asylum seekers back to those Central American countries, according to the Department of Homeland Security.
The release of aid was welcomed by lawmakers of both parties that were sharply critical of the decision to withhold it, but the paltry amount compared to what Congress obligated has ignited a new wave of anger.
“I urge the administration to keep working with Congress to restore the remaining foreign assistance funding for the region and to develop a clear strategy that ensures that our assistance is effective in meeting our stated objectives,” said Texas Rep. Michael McCaul, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
The agreements resemble “safe third country” deals that require asylum applicants to first apply for refuge in the country they pass through before arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border. After reaching deals with all three countries, the administration has effectively barred any asylum seeker passing through Central America to the southern U.S. border from making a claim, regardless of the legitimacy of their claims of persecution.
“I look forward to the continued coordination and collaboration between our governments,” Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan — who gave his resignation on Oct. 11 — said in a statement Thursday night. “I have confidence that we will continue to take the necessary steps to establish a regional framework for migration management and a safer, more secure region.”
The agreements have been criticized given the violence and lack of opportunity that makes these countries far from “safe” and because each lacks the infrastructure needed to process large amounts of asylum claims or absorb asylum seekers into their societies.
President Donald Trump announced in March he was slashing funding to the three Central American governments that make up the region known as the Northern Triangle. The area has been a major source of mass migration to the southern border over the past year.
The White House authorized the release of the funding earlier this week following a request from McAleenan, according to an administration official. Another source familiar with the administration’s plans estimated the funding would amount to $140 to $180 million.
By comparison, Congress had obligated $180 million to Honduras alone in fiscal year 2017, according to the U.S. Agency for International Development.
“Some targeted” funding would include programs to expand the Northern Triangle’s capacity to receive asylum seekers and to “create economic opportunity [and] promote rule of law, institution building, and good governance,” according to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
The region is known to have one of the highest homicide rates in the world and the State Department has cautioned Americans from traveling there.
The money will fund private-public partnerships for economic development as well as training for Central American authorities and the development of security infrastructures like new immigration checkpoints and document verification systems, the administration official added.
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