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U.S. President Donald Trump cut aid of Central American countries

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Washington. U.S. government cut aid to El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras on Saturday after President Donald Trump blasted the Central American countries for sending migrants to the United States and threatened to shutter the U.S.-Mexico border.

A surge of asylum seekers from the three countries have sought to enter the United States across the southern border in recent days. On Friday, Trump accused the nations of having “set up” migrant caravans and sent them north.

Trump said there was a “very good likelihood” he would close the border this week if Mexico did not stop immigrants from reaching the United States. Frequent crossers of the border, including workers and students, worried about the disruption to their lives the president’s threatened shutdown could cause.

At a rally on the border in El Paso, Texas, Democratic presidential hopeful Beto O’Rourke denounced Trump’s immigration policies as the politics of “fear and division.”

A State Department spokesman said in a statement it was carrying out Trump’s directive by ending aid programs to the three Central American nations, known as the Northern Triangle.

The department said it would “engage Congress in the process,” an apparent acknowledgement that it will need lawmakers’ approval to end funding that a Congressional aide estimated would total about $700 million.

New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called Trump’s order a “reckless announcement” and urged Democrats and Republicans alike to reject it.

Trump told reporters at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida on Friday that the United States was paying the three countries “tremendous amounts of money,” but received nothing in return.

Mario Garcia, a 45-year-old bricklayer in El Salvador, said he was setting off for the United States regardless of the president’s threat to close the frontier.

“There is no work here and we want to improve (our lives), to get ahead for our families, for our children. I don’t give a damn (what Trump says), I’m determined,” Garcia said.

Garcia was one of a group of at least 90 people who left the capital San Salvador over the weekend on buses heading north, in what locals said was the tenth so-called caravan to depart for the United States since October.

The government of El Salvador has said it has tried to stem the flow of migrants.

The Honduran Foreign Ministry on Saturday called the U.S. policies “contradictory” but stressed that its relationship with the United States was “solid, close and positive.”

Trump, who launched his presidential campaign in 2015 with a promise to build a border wall and crack down on illegal immigration, has repeatedly threatened to close the frontier during his two years in office but has not followed through.

This time, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and other U.S. officials say border patrol officers have been overwhelmed by a sharp increase asylum seekers, many of them children and families who arrive in groups, fleeing violence and economic hardship in the Northern Triangle.

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