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  • U.S. acting DHS Secretary Kevin McAleenan, El Salvador's Minister of Security Rogelio Rivas, Honduran Minister of Security Julian Pacheco and Guatemalan Minister of Security Enrique Degenhart in San Salvador, El Salvador October 17, 2019.

    U.S. acting DHS Secretary Kevin McAleenan, El Salvador's Minister of Security Rogelio Rivas, Honduran Minister of Security Julian Pacheco and Guatemalan Minister of Security Enrique Degenhart in San Salvador, El Salvador October 17, 2019. | Photo: Reuters

Published 18 October 2019

The United States used aid suspension as leverage over the three impoverished Central American countries that are the region's biggest migrant 'sending' nations.

The United States restored Wednesday economic aid to El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras that had been cut off after the Trump administration pressured the three Central American countries, claiming they had done too little to halt a surge in migration to the U.S.

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U.S. President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that some "targeted assistance" would resume as they praised governments of the three countries for reaching immigration agreements.

Pompeo said in a statement that he had cut off the aid earlier this year on Trump's direction "until the governments of these countries took sufficient action to reduce the overwhelming number of migrants coming to the U.S. border."

Neither Trump nor Pompeo said how much of the hundreds of millions of dollars of suspended aid would be released. The Washington Post, citing an unnamed person familiar with the decision, reported it amounted to US$143 million.

Under the pressure, the three countries all reached at least partial agreements with the United States that could help Trump implement a new rule that would deny asylum to migrants and return them to Central America.

The Trump rule requires asylum-seekers to first seek safe haven in a third country they pass through on the way to the United States. Immigrant rights organizations have sued to stop the rule, but the U.S. Supreme Court has allowed it to remain in effect pending trial.

Ac​cording to the 1951 Refugee Convention, which is a binding document for all the United Nations members, any country can refuse to grant asylum to migrants and send them to a country that is considered "safe" for their lives.

This means that the U.S. could send asylum seekers to the first “safe” country where they arrived. From the perspective of President Donald Trump administration, the safe third countries territories would be Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Panama or any other country which agrees to receive migrants. However, all of these nations have well-documented high rates of drug-related violence and poverty.

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