US plans new aid to Central America, year after Trump cutoff

Washington (AFP) –


President Donald Trump's administration said Monday it would seek new aid for Central America in recognition of efforts to curb emigration, a year after abruptly cutting off assistance.

Trump, whose hard line against immigration is one of his signature issues, in March 2019 said he would end all $450 million in assistance El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that the three countries in the impoverished, violence-ravaged "Northern Triangle" had worked to address US concerns, with the number of migrants arriving at the US southern border decreasing 76 percent since a peak in May 2019.

"To support further progress, additional targeted Department of State and United States Agency for International Development funding will be made available," Pompeo said in a statement.

"This funding will support programs to continue our joint efforts to deter illegal immigration to the United States."

Pompeo said that money would also back security programs and assist economic development led by the private sector.

Pompeo had already said in October that the United States was reopening targeted assistance. His latest statement did not reveal figures but said he had informed Congress of the decision.

Critics had questioned the wisdom of cutting off aid to Central America, noting that US assistance aimed to reduce the dire crime and poverty that had led so many migrants to flee.

Experts believe the sharp decline in arrivals is largely due to ramped-up enforcement by Mexico, the transit point for virtually all Central American migrants.

Facing threats by Trump to impose tariffs that could devastate its economy, Mexico in June agreed to let migrants stay on its soil as the United States processes their asylum claims.

Mexico has also deployed its National Guard to deter migrants from crossing, although it has refused to let them seek asylum in Mexico rather than the United States.

Advocates for the migrants say that the arrangement violates US international commitments and that the Central Americans often remain at risk in Mexico.

The United States apprehended or refused entry to more than 144,000 people on the southern border in May 2019, a number that has steadily gone down, according to the Customs and Border Protection agency.

Guatemala in particular has sought to build relations with Trump, including by becoming the only country to follow his lead in moving its embassy in Israel to contested Jerusalem.