WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration announced on Monday plans to permanently divert hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, after Trump blasted the three countries because thousands of their citizens had sought asylum at the U.S. border with Mexico.
Congressional aides said the administration told them it would reallocate $370 million in aid to Central America that lawmakers had approved for fiscal 2018, and suspend an additional $180 million Congress had approved for fiscal 2017.
All of the money for those years has not yet been spent.
The plan was likely to run into stiff opposition in Congress. Many lawmakers, including some of Trump’s fellow Republicans as well as Democrats, have chafed against the president’s repeated decisions to disregard spending bills passed by Congress, some of which he has signed into law himself.
The Trump administration said in March it would cut aid to El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras after Trump expressed unhappiness with the three countries’ immigration policies.
Lawmakers who opposed the plan said it was cruel to cut off aid to countries grappling with hunger and crime, and the move would be counterproductive because it is more likely increase the number of migrants than decrease it.
No funds will be provided until the administration is satisfied the countries are reducing the number of migrants reaching the U.S. border, said State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus.
“This is consistent with the president’s direction and with the recognition that it is critical that there be sufficient political will in these countries to address the problem at its source,” she said.
Reporting by Lesley Wroughton and Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Leslie Adler and Lisa Shumaker