The Trump administration Tuesday threatened to withhold foreign aid to three Central American countries if they do not take action to prevent migrants from crossing their borders, in an apparent response to a new caravan of about 2,000 Hondurans that is making its way north in the hopes of reaching the United States.
“We have today informed the countries of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador that if they allow their citizens, or others, to journey through their borders and up to the United States, with the intention of entering our country illegally, all payments made to them will STOP (END)!” Trump tweeted late Tuesday.
On Friday a group of Hondurans left San Pedro Sula, Honduras — one of the most dangerous cities in Latin America — with the goal of reaching the US on foot or in vehicles. Their numbers had grown to at least 2,000 people Tuesday, according to some estimates.
In a pair of tweets, Vice President Mike Pence said that he had spoken to the presidents of Honduras and Guatemala Tuesday and informed them of the US government's intention to cut aid if they don’t take action to stop the caravan.
Trump had also tweeted earlier Tuesday that his administration had warned Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández that the US would cut off aid to the country “if the large Caravan of people heading to the U.S. is not stopped and brought back to Honduras.”
It is unclear how the Central American countries Trump named are expected to stop the growing caravan. It is also unclear how many members of the “March of the Migrants” intend to seek asylum in the US, which is not illegal.
The United States planned to give Honduras $66 million in foreign assistance in fiscal year 2019, according to a government website. Guatemala and El Salvador were expecting $69 million and $43 million, respectively.
Faced with the Trump administration’s threats, the governments of Guatemala and Honduras have spoken out against the caravan.
Guatemala’s Institute of Migration, which enforces immigration laws in the country, said Sunday that it would stop the group, citing national security and endangering the lives of children. And on Tuesday, the Guatemalan government reportedly detained former Honduran lawmaker Bartolo Fuentes, one of the organizers of the caravan.
“Guatemala does not promote or endorse irregular migration in any forms, and therefore rejects movements organized for unlawful purposes which distort or use human rights, like migration, for their own end,” the government said in a statement.
But in the end the caravan was allowed to continue north after crossing into Guatemala Monday, following a two-hour standoff with Guatemalan authorities in a road outside the city of Esquipulas. Those traveling with the caravan spent the night Tuesday in a soccer stadium in the Guatemalan city of Chiquimula.
The group is the second caravan of migrants to head towards the US this year, following a group of at least 1,200 people that departed for the US from the Mexico–Guatemala border in March. News coverage of that caravan led Trump to tweet furiously about the group, and pressure the Mexican government to disband the migrants.
But Trump did not follow through on a similar threat to cut foreign aid to Honduras in response to that caravan.
Caravans have been taking place in Latin America annually since at least 2008. They were initially started to highlight the plight of migrants who have to take dangerous routes through Mexico in order to reach the US, exposing themselves to extortion, kidnappings, and rape.
In recent years, the caravans have been used to help move people through Mexico out in the open, hoping their numbers will protect them from criminals and also stop immigration authorities from detaining them.
Most of those caravans had taken place with little attention from the international community, until Trump took note this spring, when NGO Pueblo Sin Fronteras departed from the Mexican city of Tapachula on March 25. The caravan was able to make it to the US border, though its numbers diminished considerably amid Trump’s threats. After a brief standoff with border authorities, a couple hundred asylum-seekers were eventually able to ask for refuge in the US.
In the wake of that caravan, the US implemented several new immigration policies aimed at curtailing migration across the southern border. Specifically, the Trump administration implemented its “zero tolerance” policy that resulted in the systemic separation of immigrant parents and children, and imposed new restrictions on asylum claims that have made it harder for asylum-seekers to win their cases.
In a statement, Pueblo Sin Fronteras said it was concerned by the response of the region’s governments to the caravan, describing it as a humanitarian crisis that it blamed on decades of US intervention in Central America.
“We demand respect for the international right to migrate and to seek asylum and refuge under domestic and international laws,” the organization said in a statement. “We insist that the governments of the region not use repression, violence or force against the people who are fleeing as part of this mass exodus.”