Trump is threatening to cut foreign aid over the new migrant caravan. Here’s what’s at stake

Posted at 11:46 AM, Oct 18, 2018
and last updated 2018-10-18 14:02:10-04

President Trump hasn’t minced words in his tweets over a new migrant caravan moving through Central America and heading for the United States.

Over and over, he’s said if migrants aren’t stopped before they reach the US border, foreign aid will be cut.

All told, US aid planned for Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador and Mexico in fiscal year 2019 adds up to nearly $260 million.

That’s already notably less than amounts pledged in past years. And threatening to cut aid even further is a high-profile way for the US to wield its global influence.

But putting foreign aid on the chopping block actually could end up fueling more migration north, experts have said, noting that people are increasingly likely to leave their home countries if governments there lose funding for programs geared toward stemming violence and creating economic opportunities.

Here’s a look at foreign aid spending that’s planned for the next year in the countries connected to the caravan — and some of the things it pays for:


A US government website that tracks foreign aid spending clearly states an underlying goal: improving conditions in Honduras so people won’t migrate. “U.S. foreign assistance plays a critical role in supporting Honduras’ development as a safe, democratic, and prosperous nation that offers hope to Hondurans so they see their future in Honduras and not elsewhere,” the website says.

Aid from the US: $65.8 million

What it pays for: Aid to Honduras and other Central American countries aims to promote prosperity and regional economic integration, enhance security and promote improved governance, according to the State Department. Among things it’s funded in Honduras: rural development projects, reintegration for returning migrants and youth programs.


Of all the countries in Central America, Guatemala is set to receive the most foreign aid from the United States this year. Guatemalans also make up the largest number of family members — and the largest number of unaccompanied minors — apprehended after illegally crossing the US border, according to US Customs and Border Protection. And it’s become the top destination for US deportation flights.

Aid from the US: $69.4 million

What it pays for: Aid to Guatemala addresses “high levels of violence and insecurity, pervasive poverty and chronic malnutrition, and extreme vulnerability to the impacts of global climate change, as well as the impacts of these challenges on increased migration,” according to the US government website that tracks foreign aid spending. Funding also focuses on agriculture, economic growth and food security.

El Salvador

Two groups of Hondurans are headed to the US border; the one that’s gotten the most attention is passing through Guatemala. But there’s also another group of hundreds trekking through El Salvador.

El Salvador has been a frequent target of the Trump administration’s criticisms of illegal immigration, with officials often referring to MS-13 — the notorious street gang that has a significant stronghold in the Central American country. And more than 250,000 Salvadorans who’ve legally lived in the United States for nearly two decades could face deportation next year, now that the US has announced it’s ending their temporary protected status.

Aid from the US: $45.7 million

What it pays for: Aid to El Salvador pays for programs that provide greater educational and economic opportunities for “vulnerable youth in high-crime communities,” the US government says. “Assistance will also strengthen the capacity of El Salvador’s security forces and law enforcement agencies to contribute to international and domestic security.”


So far, when he’s threatened to cut foreign aid as the caravan heads north, President Trump hasn’t explicitly mentioned Mexico. And even though Trump’s efforts to convince Mexico to do things like pay for a border wall haven’t always been successful, the US has already shown its interest in pulling financial strings to influence Mexico’s migration decisions.

In September the State Department revealed plans to transfer $20 million to the Department of Homeland Security for a “migrant removals pilot” that could result in Mexico deporting up to 17,000 people. And on Thursday, Trump tweeted that he cares more about stopping “the assault on our country at our Southern border” than his recently renegotiated North American trade deal with Mexico and Canada.

Aid from the US: $78.9 million

What it pays for: Most of the foreign aid Mexico receives from the US comes as part of the Merida Initiative, which aims to help the neighboring country crack down on drug cartels. According to a Congressional Research Service report, the Trump administration’s funding for the initiative focuses on disrupting and destroying criminal organizations, in addition to “overcoming shared migration challenges, strengthening governance, and combating impunity.”