- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday defended President Trump’s vow to slash about $1 billion of approved aid to El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, saying their efforts to curb illegal migration to the U.S. have not been effective.

Appearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Wednesday, Mr. Pompeo said the U.S. government “has spent hundreds of millions of dollars to try and build out solutions.”

“It’s a fact of this crisis at the southern border that [the aid] has not been effective,” he told the committee. We are endeavoring to change that. We are dealing in reality.”

Mr. Pompeo’s comments come amid a heightening immigration debate in Washington as the number of those from Mexico and Central American states seeking asylum in the U.S. has been rising sharply — despite Mr. Trump’s push to curb the flow. But the abrupt announcement of aid cuts to programs designed to improve domestic conditions in the triad of nations has been criticized by lawmakers of both parties.

New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez, the ranking Democrat on the panel, told Mr. Pompeo that “violent crime” is the primary cause for the influx of migrants. “We need to fight at the very essence of that and the very essence of that is not at our border, it’s in Central America,” he said.

The top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee also slammed the proposed funding cut, and called Mr. Trump’s move “reckless.”

“I think it’s the wrong message at the wrong time. I think this is ill advised,” Rep. Michael McCaul, Texas Republican, said during a committee hearing.

Last month, Mr. McCaul and Democratic committee chairman Eliot Engel, New York Democrat, traveled to El Salvador to examine conditions the migrants are citing as reasons to leave. Mr. McCaul said he witnessed “first-hand how our assistance is driving at-risk youth away from criminal gangs like MS-13 by providing technical skills and employment opportunities.”

The State Department has requested $40 billion to fund the State Department and USAID for the 2020 federal fiscal year, about a 20 percent cut from last year’s funding request. While Mr. Pompeo has persistently defended the decrease, lawmakers argue it could be harmful to U.S. national security.

Also during the hearing, Mr. Pompeo said Turkey could face sanctions and the cancellation of a deal to buy advanced U.S. F-35 fighters jets if Ankara goes through with a deal to purchase a sophisticated Russian missile defense system and told lawmakers Moscow has largely complied with the START nuclear arms deal and conversations have begun to renew the pact.

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