Donald Trump Admits He Withheld Funds to 'Punish' Central America Over Immigration: 'They Abused Us'

Former President Donald Trump has said that during his presidency, he cut federal funding to three Central American countries in order to "punish" them. He said he wanted to punish them immigrants kept coming from their countries to seek entry into the United States.

During a Thursday night interview with Fox News host Laura Ingraham, Ingraham played a clip of Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. In the clip, Pelosi said that Trump had withdrawn funding from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador—three countries that make up a region called the Northern Triangle—in order to punish them.

Ingraham asked, "Mr. President, did you withdraw money from Central America to punish them?"

"Absolutely. That's right," Trump replied.

"We were paying them $500 million a year," Trump told Ingraham. "Nobody knew what they were doing with the money, and they were sending criminals to our country."

"They abused us in so many different ways," Trump continued. He then accused the countries' leaders of refusing to accept murderers and members of the violent MS13 gang that had been caught at the southern U.S. border by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection.

"They wouldn't take them. I stopped paying the $500 million that we were wasting when giving it to them," Trump continued.

He then claimed that the day after his administration cut off its funding, the countries' leaders called U.S. officials stating, "We'd love to have MS13 come back into our country. Please send them immediately, and we will not be sending any more bad people."

Ingraham laughed in response.

Laura Ingraham Trump funds Central punish immigration
In an interview with Fox News host Laura Ingraham, former President Donald Trump said that during his administration, he withdrew federal funds from Central American countries in order to "punish" them for immigrants who had come from their countries seeking refuge inside of the United States. In this photo, a U.S. Border Patrol agent speaks with Central American immigrants at the U.S.-Mexico border fence on February 01, 2019 in El Paso, Texas. John Moore/Getty

At the end of March 2019, the Trump Administration announced that it was cutting nearly $450 million in direct funding to the countries because of their failure to stop emigration.

The Northern Triangle is the primary source of migrants to the United States. The immigrants largely flee their region to escape high murder rates, gang violence, low employment as well as a lack of access to food, necessities and social services. Recent droughts and hurricanes have worsened conditions in the region.

The direct funding cut off by Trump had sought to stem migration from the region by helping the countries politically and economically stabilize in an effort to reduce migration caused by violence and corruption.

The program paid millions to dozens of local and international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). These organizations conducted development and humanitarian programs on the U.S. government's behalf.

However, because the countries had failed to reduce migration, Trump cut off the funds as a punishment. When the funding ended, many NGOs had to scale back their programs or end them prematurely, closing offices and laying off staff, according to NPR.

Democratic Massachusetts Congressman Jim McGovern, part of a Congressional delegation that visited the Northern Triangle in August 2019 said, "Under questioning, [U.S. embassy staff in the countries] basically conceded that this freeze is a rotten thing to do. Rather than trying to fix the situation, we're making it worse."

In October 2019, Trump's Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that the administration planned on partially restoring the funding. Pompeo said the restoration would occur because the three countries had taken steps to curb emigration.

Newsweek contacted the White House for comment.