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Trump demands $700 million in cuts to central America while threatening border shutdown that could close factories

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The U.S. government cut aid to El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras on Saturday after President Donald Trump blasted the Central American countries for sending migrants to the United States and threatened to shutter the U.S.-Mexico border.

A surge of asylum seekers from the three countries have sought to enter the United States across the southern border in recent days. On Friday, Trump accused the nations of having “set up” migrant caravans and sent them north.

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Trump said there was a “very good likelihood” he would close the border this week if Mexico did not stop immigrants from reaching the United States. Frequent crossers of the border, including workers and students, worried about the disruption to their lives the president’s threatened shutdown could cause.

At a rally on the border in El Paso, Texas, Democratic presidential hopeful Beto O’Rourke denounced Trump’s immigration policies as the politics of “fear and division.”

A State Department spokesman said in a statement it was carrying out Trump’s directive by ending aid programs to the three Central American nations, known as the Northern Triangle.

The department said it would “engage Congress in the process,” an apparent acknowledgement that it will need lawmakers’ approval to end funding that a Congressional aide estimated would total about $700 million.

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New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called Trump’s order a “reckless announcement” and urged Democrats and Republicans alike to reject it.

Trump told reporters at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida on Friday that the United States was paying the three countries “tremendous amounts of money,” but received nothing in return.

Mario Garcia, a 45-year-old bricklayer in El Salvador, said he was setting off for the United States regardless of the president’s threat to close the frontier.

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“There is no work here and we want to improve (our lives), to get ahead for our families, for our children. I don’t give a damn (what Trump says), I’m determined,” Garcia said.

Garcia was one of a group of at least 90 people who left the capital San Salvador over the weekend on buses heading north, in what locals said was the tenth so-called caravan to depart for the United States since October.

The government of El Salvador has said it has tried to stem the flow of migrants.

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The Honduran Foreign Ministry on Saturday called the U.S. policies “contradictory” but stressed that its relationship with the United States was “solid, close and positive.”

Trump, who launched his presidential campaign in 2015 with a promise to build a border wall and crack down on illegal immigration, has repeatedly threatened to close the frontier during his two years in office but has not followed through.

This time, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and other U.S. officials say border patrol officers have been overwhelmed by a sharp increase asylum seekers, many of them children and families who arrive in groups, fleeing violence and economic hardship in the Northern Triangle.

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March is on track for 100,000 border apprehensions, Homeland Security officials said, which would be the highest monthly number in more than a decade. Most of those people can remain in the United States while their asylum claims are processed, which can take years because of ballooning immigration court backlogs.

Nielsen warned Congress on Thursday that the government faces a “system-wide meltdown” as it tries to care for more than 1,200 unaccompanied children and 6,600 migrant families in its custody.

Trump has so far been unable to convince Congress to tighten asylum laws or fund his border wall. He has declared a national emergency to justify redirecting money earmarked for the military to pay for the wall.

Mexico has played down the possibility of a border shutdown. Its foreign minister, Marcelo Ebrard, said the country is a good neighbor and does not act on the basis of threats.

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It was not clear how shutting down ports of entry would deter asylum seekers because they are legally able to request help as soon as they set foot on U.S. soil.

But a border shutdown would disrupt tourism and U.S.-Mexico trade that totaled $612 billion last year, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. A shutdown could lead to factory closures on both sides of the border, industry officials say, because the automobiles and medical sectors especially have woven international supply chains into their business models.

Reporting by Julia Harte and Richard Cowan in Washington, and Tim Reid in El Paso; Additional reporting by Jose Luis Gonzalez in Ciudad Juarez, Julia Love in Mexico City, Omar Younis in San Diego, Nelson Renteria in San Salvador and Orfa Mejia in Tegucigalpa; Writing by Daniel Wallis; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien


Report typos and corrections to: [email protected].
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Columnist reveals why Democrats shouldn’t write off Ohio in 2020

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As the 2020 election kicks into gear, political analysts have argued that Ohio could be a lost cause to Democrats, but one columnist disagrees.

According to Vanity Fair's Peter Hamby, recent polls indicate Democrats shouldn't write it off just yet.

https://twitter.com/PeterHamby/status/1183792769560502273

"As Democrats bring their next primary debate to Ohio on Tuesday, they're grappling with whether the new Republican dominance in those industrial and rural pockets has pushed Ohio out of their reach," the Associated Press reported Monday. "Some Democratic presidential campaigns are contemplating once unheard-of White House victory scenarios that leave out Ohio. The storied swing state — a place that sided with the winning presidential candidate in all but one election since 1944 — seems likely to be eclipsed by Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania in next year's election."

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‘Weary and numb’ GOP legislative aide says they’re secretly apathetic about Trump getting impeached

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While President Donald Trump has been banging the war drums to rally his voters against the House Democrats' impeachment inquiry, at least one Republican legislative aide feeling apathetic about the prospects of their party's leader being removed from office.

In interviews with New York Magazine's Olivia Nuzzi, Republican officials say that Trump's presidency has so completely exhausted them that they're having a hard time getting worked up about his impeachment.

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‘Tighter’: Actress Ellen Barkin praises women impeachment witnesses who have Trump’s ‘balls in their fist’

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Actor and producer Ellen Barkin on Monday celebrated the women who have testified against President Donald Trump in the House impeachment inquiry.

Writing on Twitter, Barkin made reference leaked audio in which Trump said that he could grab women by the genitals because he was famous. She also praised former Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch and former White House aide on Russia Fiona Hill, who are cooperating with House Democrats and the impeachment proceedings.

"Not gonna be much pussy grabbin with his balls in their fists," Barkin wrote on Monday.

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