Politics & Government

Trump wants to halt aid to Central America. These Republicans want to stop him.

Republicans on Capitol Hill who generally support President Donald Trump’s ideas to secure the border are pushing back against his plan to halt aid to Central American countries, suggesting the change would worsen the migrant asylum crisis.

The Trump administration announced Saturday that it plans to stop sending money Congress has already appropriated for aid to El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras — where violence is driving large numbers of people to leave and seek entry into the United States at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Lawmakers from both parties bucked Trump’s requests for steep cuts to that aid in their recent spending bills, and are now looking for ways to force him to spend the money against his will.

“It’s a really easy thing to say, ‘Look they’re sending migrants so just cut off their foreign aid,’” said Rep. Mike McCaul, a Texan and the highest-ranking Republican on the House Foreign Relations Committee. “It’s going to make things tragically worse.”

Rep. Kay Granger also disagrees with the president on this issue: “I do not support a complete suspension of all aid, as the president has suggested,” said the highest-ranking Republican on the House Appropriations Committee.

House Democrats on Granger’s committee have requested information from the State Department about which programs Trump is trying to defund, while assessing their options to push back.

McCaul, who returned Sunday from a trip to the Northern Triangle with House Foreign Affairs Chair Rep. Eliot Engel, a Democrat from New York, said he also was looking into the matter, noting that the two men were in agreement about the need to continue the foreign aid.

McCaul said U.S. assistance was funding efforts to move young immigrants away from gangs, such as MS-13, and onto a job-training track.

“We got the presentation on what USAID is doing down there, rerouting at-risk youth into training, into computer training, away from MS-13, and we got briefed on the international law enforcement that’s taking place in El Salvador where MS-13 is prevalent, that has been hugely successful,” McCaul said of his trip.

“Ironically, Eliot and I were talking about strengthening the Central American Regional Security Initiative because I think it’s a great return on our investment,” McCaul added, in reference to the Foreign Affairs chairman. “We can be very reactive at our border, to stop them from coming in.”

Congressional Republicans have been sympathetic to the Trump administration’s requests for more information about how foreign aid is spent in Central America.

Texas Sen. John Cornyn listed foreign aid oversight among his top priorities for the Senate drug caucus he now co-chairs.

“Where programs aren’t working, funds should be redirected. Where programs are working, they should continue to receive our support,” said Granger, who visited the Northern Triangle to assess the migrant crisis in 2014. After that trip, she advocated for foreign aid to help the countries cut down on the violence causing people to flee.

“Funding alone will not solve the problem,” Granger said Monday. “If we are truly going to address the crisis at hand, we must change our laws – particularly when it comes to asylum seekers.”

One Texas Republican solidly in agreement with Trump on the issue is Rep. Michael Burgess, who said he plans to reintroduce a plan that would dock the countries’ aid for each of their citizens who arrives at the border.

“We must hold the leaders of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras accountable for the instability and violence contributing to irregular migration,” said Burgess. “By withholding aid, the U.S. will incentivize the governments of the Northern Triangle to take better care of their communities and citizens.”

Andrea Drusch is the Washington Correspondent for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. She is a Corinth, Texas, native and graduate of the Bob Schieffer School of Journalism at Texas Christian University. She returns home frequently to visit family, get her fix of Fuzzy’s Tacos and cheer on the Horned Frogs.