April 9, 2019 / 4:00 PM / 11 days ago

Trump decision to cut Central American aid won't be reversed soon: top official

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The top U.S. international aid official indicated on Tuesday the Trump administration has no immediate plan to roll back a decision to cut aid to Central American nations after thousands of their citizens sought asylum at the U.S. southern border, despite strong Congressional opposition.

U.S. President Donald Trump participates in a roundtable discussion on immigration and border security at the U.S. Border Patrol Calexico Station before visiting the U.S.-Mexico border in Calexico, California, U.S., April 5, 2019. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Mark Green, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, told a congressional hearing he was “very hopeful” the issue would be revisited when President Donald Trump is satisfied that the countries are doing enough to address migration.

“I’m very hopeful that when the president is satisfied that our partner countries are doing all (they) can that we will have an opportunity ... to address both the issues of economic opportunity and freedom in the hemisphere,” Green told the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

The U.S. State Department said last month it would cut aid to El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras after Trump blasted the nations because thousands of their citizens have sought asylum at the border.

“The president is the president. He’s expressing frustration. We share the frustration,” Green said.

Several members of Congress, including some of Trump’s fellow Republicans, have rejected the idea, saying it was cruel to cut off aid to countries grappling with hunger and crime, and was more likely to increase the number of migrants.

Questioning Green, Democratic Representative Adriano Espaillat, a Democrat from New York, said if the United States does not have a presence in El Salvador, for example, China would step in. Competing with China for global influence has been a focus of administration policy.

Green responded that the administration is considering “new approaches” to aid.

“We look forward to the review and look forward to the day that our host country partners are making the necessary commitments (so) that we can take on some of these issues again,” he said.

Trump has taken a hard line on immigration, a central theme of his presidency, particularly regarding undocumented newcomers from Latin America via the border with Mexico.

Trump asked his Secretary of Homeland Security, Kirstjen Nielsen, to resign on Sunday after U.S. border officials estimated that 100,000 migrants were apprehended at the southern frontier in March, the highest level in a decade.

Nielsen’s departure was part of a sweeping overhaul of the department.

The Foreign Affairs Committee is having a separate hearing on Wednesday on aid to Central America.

Additional reporting by Lesley Wroughton; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe

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