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Trump admin resumes some aid to Central America in exchange for asylum cooperation

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.

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“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 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.

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.

PHOTO: DHS Secretary Kevin McAleenan, El Salvadors Minister of Security Rogelio Rivas, and Honduran Minister of Security Julian Pacheco attend a news conference.
Jose Cabezas/Reuters

DHS Secretary Kevin McAleenan, El Salvador’s Minister of Security Rogelio Rivas, and Honduran Minister of Security Julian Pacheco attend a news conference.

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.

Trump first announced the change in a vague tweet after which Homeland Security officials did not respond to questions about how much money would be restarted.

“Guatemala, Honduras & El Salvador have all signed historic Asylum Cooperation Agreements and are working to end the scourge of human smuggling,” Trump tweeted Wednesday. “To further accelerate this progress, the U.S. will shortly be approving targeted assistance in the areas of law enforcement & security.”

“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 money will fund private-public partnerships for economic development as well as training for Central American authorities and the development of security infrastructure like new immigration checkpoints and document verification systems, the administration official added.

The move to slash funding was roundly criticized as undermining efforts toward economic development in the region, which the administration often cites as a central cause of the mass migration seen in the past year.

International aid organizations have been critical of the decision to send asylum seekers back to dangerous central american countries. 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.

“These deals are only going to create more suffering for people who have fled violence in their home countries, and who suffer further along the migration route in Mexico,” said Stéphane Foulon, the regional head of Doctors Without Borders, after the signing of the El Salvador agreement. “They will now most likely suffer even more in El Salvador.”

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