Bipartisan lawmakers urge Trump to reconsider Central America aid cuts

Bipartisan lawmakers urge Trump to reconsider Central America aid cuts
© Getty Images
The top Democrat and Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee are calling on the Trump administration to reconsider planned cuts in foreign aid to Central America.
In a letter dated Monday, committee Chairman Eliot EngelEliot Lance EngelBombshell Afghanistan report bolsters calls for end to 'forever wars' House Democrats expected to unveil articles of impeachment Tuesday House approves two-state resolution in implicit rebuke of Trump MORE (D-N.Y.) and ranking member Michael McCaulMichael Thomas McCaulConservative group hits White House with billboard ads: 'What is Trump hiding?' House GOP criticizes impeachment drive as distracting from national security issues Texas GOP congressman calls on governor to postpone execution of Rodney Reed MORE (R-Texas) told Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoTrump greeted with cheers at 120th Army-Navy game Judge orders State Dept. to search for and provide more Ukraine docs Pompeo launches personal Twitter account amid speculation over Senate run MORE they believe "cutting assistance would be counterproductive and lead to increased migration flows to the U.S."
President TrumpDonald John TrumpRepublicans aim to avoid war with White House over impeachment strategy New York Times editorial board calls for Trump's impeachment Trump rips Michigan Rep. Dingell after Fox News appearance: 'Really pathetic!' MORE last month announced he would cut millions of dollars in aid to El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras in retaliation for their role in increased family migration to the United States.
The move would affect almost $500 million in unspent aid from the 2018 fiscal year, which ended on Sept. 30, plus some unused funds from the previous year.
Republicans on the House Foreign Affairs Committee said in a statement Wednesday that aid cuts "will exacerbate the problems facing the region and lead to increased child and family migration to the United States."
In their letter, Engel and McCaul referenced a recent visit they made to El Salvador, where they saw the effects of assistance from agencies like the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).
"We recently traveled to El Salvador and witnessed first-hand how the State Department and USAID are driving at-risk youth away from MS-13 and other criminal gangs by providing them with technical skills and job training," the lawmakers wrote. "Since FY16, these projects have helped contribute to a 52 percent drop in the country's homicide rate and led to the prosecution of multiple MS-13 gang leaders."
A State Department spokesperson said the agency has "received the letter from Chairman Engel and Ranking Member McCaul, and the State Department will respond appropriately."
The spokesperson added that the State Department has "ceased obligating funds for those three countries" and is reviewing existing agreements and awards from fiscal 2017 funds "to provide detailed data to the Secretary to determine the best way forward pursuant to the President’s direction."
Democrats have long argued that the best way to deter migration to the U.S. border is to help improve conditions on the ground in certain Central American countries, which rank among the most violent and corrupt in the world. By scaling back U.S. funding to the region, they say, Trump is only ensuring that the problems will worsen.
"The president ... wants to build a wall and stop people from coming — all these policies that are intended to deter people fleeing — and then he wants to cut investments to Central America," Rep. David CicillineDavid Nicola CicillineImpeachment obliterates tinges of comity in House Democrats approve two articles of impeachment against Trump in Judiciary vote Live coverage: House Judiciary to vote on impeachment after surprise delay MORE (R.I.), chairman of the Democrats' messaging arm, told reporters earlier this month at the party's retreat in Northern Virginia.
"We had a great hearing in the House Foreign Affairs Committee the other day, in which they all acknowledged that the single most important thing to do is address the root causes of migration to stem the flow. And the president, by cutting off funding, is actually making the problem much worse."
While Guatemalan and Honduran apprehensions at the U.S. border have increased recently, Salvadoran apprehensions plummeted last year and have not spiked at the same rate as neighboring countries in 2019.
In the first year of Trump's presidency, 24,122 Salvadorans traveling as family units were apprehended entering the United States illegally, compared to 24,657 Guatemalans and 22,366 Hondurans.
The following year, the number of Salvadorans plummeted to 13,669, while 50,401 Guatemalans and 39,439 Hondurans were apprehended.
Engel and McCaul suggested in their letter that the election of El Salvador's incoming president may contribute to a further decrease in Salvadoran migrants to the U.S.
"As you know, El Salvador will soon have a strong U.S. partner in President-elect Nayib Bukele, who expressed to us his commitment to working with the United States in every way possible, including by supporting pro-market policies necessary to create jobs and attract foreign investment," the lawmakers wrote.
They asked Pompeo to keep Congress in the loop as the administration sets the bar for restoring U.S. assistance to the three countries.
"We are working together on legislation that will strengthen our assistance efforts in Central America and it is essential that we all work together to advance a comprehensive policy that is responsive to the needs of our partners in the region and serves our national security interests," the lawmakers wrote.
Mike Lillis contributed.
Updated at 1:39 p.m.