US foreign aid reinstated to Northern Triangle countries

Outgoing acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan announced on Thursday the restoration of previously frozen foreign aid to the Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.

“I have confidence that we will continue to take the necessary steps to establish a regional framework for migration management and a safer, more secure region,” said McAleenan, who was in El Salvador for the announcement Thursday.

McAleenan, along with the State Department, recommended to the White House that aid be reinstated for specific programs, according to a source familiar with the request. The White House agreed it was the right path forward.

The source said $143 million would be released in targeted foreign aid, a partial reinstatement of the initial freeze.

McAleenan, a proponent of investment in the region, announced last week that he will step down. He is expected to depart by the end of the month.

His work with the Northern Triangle countries has been a cornerstone of his tenure in the administration, for which he’s made numerous trips to the region and pushed ahead with controversial asylum agreements in an effort to stem the flow of migrants arriving at the US southern border.

Due to the progress made in the Northern Triangle, the secretary felt that targeted aid is “necessary in support of security, asylum protection, private industry support and (to) ensure the safety of people in the region,” said the source.

The Washington Post first reported the amount of assistance to be released and McAleenan’s role in the administration’s decision.

At the secretary’s urging, the US signed asylum cooperation agreements with the three Central American countries over the past few months. The agreements could allow the US to send some asylum seekers back to the region if they don’t meet certain requirements, one of a number of policy shifts aimed at limiting access to asylum in the US.

However, implementation has remained elusive and the impact of the agreements is unclear.

President Donald Trump on Wednesday tweeted that in the wake of the agreements, aid would be turned back on.

“Guatemala, Honduras & El Salvador have all signed historic Asylum Cooperation Agreements and are working to end the scourge of human smuggling. To further accelerate this progress, the U.S. will shortly be approving targeted assistance in the areas of law enforcement & security,” he wrote.

The State Department informed Congress earlier this week of the intention to restart targeted US assistance to El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, according to a statement by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday. The State Department had frozen such aid earlier this year as part of an effort to reduce migration from the Northern Triangle countries.

CNN previously reported that before the aid was frozen, the US had committed $420 million to Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador for fiscal year 2017, while the three countries committed $5.4 billion to support investments in public safety and opportunity.