- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 16, 2019

The Trump administration cleared the way Wednesday for tens of millions of dollars in foreign assistance money to flow to Central American countries, reversing a blockade put in place last spring.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala have all stepped up their cooperation with the U.S. in trying to stop illegal immigration, and they have earned the right to turn on the U.S. spigot again.

“To enable further progress in these countries’ efforts, some targeted Department of State and USAID funding will resume at this time,” Mr. Pompeo said in a statement.

He said the money will enhance security cooperation, boost economic opportunities and try to strengthen civic institutions.

Some $450 million in cash had been approved by Congress but Mr. Pompeo had blocked it from going out the door “until the governments of these countries took sufficient action to reduce the overwhelming number of migrants coming to the U.S. border.”

Together, the three countries — dubbed the “Northern Triangle” of Central America — accounted for most of the illegal migrant surge that overwhelmed U.S. border authorities this spring.

Under pressure, all three have now signed agreements with the U.S. that make it easier to deport their citizens back to those countries. The three nations also said they’ll try to deter people from other countries who want to cross their territory en route to the U.S.

For example, under a deal with Guatemala, migrants from further south who traverse Guatemala and eventually reach the U.S. to claim asylum could be sent back to Guatemala to make their asylum claims there.

The theory, U.S. officials say, is that Guatemala is a safe country so legitimate asylum-seekers fleeing from other countries can find safety there. If they continue on to the U.S., it’s an indication they are regular illegal migrants rather than bona fide asylum-seekers, the administration says.

The Washington Examiner reported that the new decision Wednesday will apply to about $150 million, or a third of the money that was cut off earlier this year.

Democrats said the springtime decision to halt funding was “counterproductive,” wounding America’s standing with the Central American countries and creating an opening for China and Russia to try to win influence in the region.

“That’s why there has been a complete bipartisan rejection of this effort,” said Rep. Eliot Engel, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

He said he will battle the administration to release all of the money that was halted.

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

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