Trump Hints at Guatemala Migrant Deal, Cuts Aid to Central America Over Migrants

U.S. President Donald Trump claimed Monday that Guatemala was “getting ready to sign” an agreement that would force migrants who flee persecution in El Salvador and Honduras to request asylum in Guatemala instead of Mexico or the United States.

A U.S. State Department delegation traveled to Guatemala last week to seek approval for the “safe third country” protocol, which if signed would be the first such agreement between the United States and a Latin American country.  

There has been no public indication from Guatemala that the deal was close to completion.

Trump’s comment came in a late-night series of tweets in which he praised Mexico for “using their strong immigration laws” and helping to stop people before they make the journey all the way up to the U.S. southern border, something Trump has long demanded as he seeks to cut the number of migrant arrivals.

He also said that within the United States, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency would begin next week removing those who had illegally entered the country.

Earlier Monday, Trump’s administration announced plans to slash hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.

A message and the colors of the U.S. flag are seen on the U.S. and Mexico border fence at Friendship Park in Tijuana.

U.S. State Department Spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said funds for programs in those countries would not be provided until the administration is satisfied these governments are taking concrete actions to reduce the number of migrants coming to the United States.

“Working with Congress, we will reprogram those funds to other priorities as appropriate. This is consistent with the president’s direction and with the recognition that it is critical that there be sufficient political will in these countries to address the problem at its source. As Secretary Pompeo has said, these nations have the responsibility to take care of the immigration problems in their home country,” Ortagus said.

The Reuters news agency quoted congressional aides as saying the administration told them it would reallocate $370 million in aid to Central America that lawmakers had approved for fiscal 2018, and suspend an additional $180 million Congress had approved for fiscal 2017.

Lawmakers had been urging the administration not to cut the aid, fearing the end of U.S. assistance will only make worse the rampant poverty, deep-rooted political instability and widespread insecurity in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, collectively known as the “Northern Triangle.”

Rep. Veronica Escobar who represents the border city of El Paso, Texas, said on Twitter that the Trump administration’s strategy is destabilizing. 

“Instead of working with leaders in Central America to stabilize the situation there, the administration is eliminating aid intended to create better conditions that would help keep families home,” she wrote.

The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), a human rights group, tweeted that “all aid to Central America is not the way to build a safer, more prosperous region where people aren’t forced to flee.” 

Back in March, the Trump administration promised to cut aid to El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras after Trump expressed unhappiness with the three countries’ immigration policies.

“We completed a review, and previously awarded grants and contracts will continue with current funding. State Department assistance in support of priorities of the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security priorities to help the Northern Triangle governments take actions that will protect the U.S. border and counter transnational organized crime will also continue,” Ortagus said.

Lawmakers who were against the plan said it was cruel to cut off aid to countries dealing with hunger and crime. The move would be counterproductive, they said, because it is more likely to increase the number of migrants than decrease it.

Chinese College Students Being Forced to Spy on US

Chinese university students in the United States are increasing being pressured to act as pawns in the ever-expanding espionage war that Beijing is running against Washington and its allies. 

The allegation, made Monday by a key U.S. lawmaker, comes as security and defense officials are expressing growing concern over Chinese efforts to exploit Western research and technology. 

“The overwhelming number of counterintelligence cases in our country now involve Chinese nationals,” Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman, Democrat Mark Warner, told an audience at the Council for Foreign Relations in Washington. 

“The Chinese spy services are literally threatening Chinese families,” he said. “’If you’re son or daughter does not come back [from the US] and come back with intellectual property, you the family will be put in jeopardy.” 

Warner is not the first to raise concerns about Chinese students in the U.S.  This past April, FBI Director Christopher Wray warned Chinese intelligence was using a “societal approach” to stealing research and technological advancements – a plan that included leveraging Chinese students in the U.S. 

“The academic sector needs to be much more sophisticated and thoughtful about how others may exploit the very open, collaborative research environment that we have in this country, and revere in this country,” Wray said at the time.  

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Headshot of Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman, Democrat Mark Warner.

And until now, many U.S. universities have been eager to welcome Chinese students, seeing them as a way to bring in more money. 

“This is a revenue source that the universities become addicted to,” Warner said.  “All those students are paying 100 cents on the dollar tuition.” 

But U.S. officials say academic institutions are increasing aware of the dangers, both from students and from Chinese outreach efforts, like its Confucius Institutes. 

The institutes were set up at universities across the U.S. to promote education about Chinese language and culture, though Warner said many academic officials are now viewing them as “nothing but agents of Chinese services to spy on Chinese students and hold them accountable.” 

It is also becoming more difficult for Chinese students to get into the U.S. 

Last year, the U.S. State Department shortened the length of visas for Chinese graduate students studying robotics, aviation and advanced manufacturing from five years to one year. And earlier this month, Chinese officials said visa complications had prevented 13.5% of Chinese students hoping to study in the U.S. from making the trip. 

Warner on Monday warned U.S. academics should likewise be wary of traveling to China. 

“If you’re suddenly offered an all-expense paid trip to lecture in Chinese universities, please make sure you don’t bring your existing computer equipment. Bring burner phones,” he said. “There are certain kind of low hanging fruit that I think we could do a better job of.”