- As Prepared –

Washington—Representative Eliot L. Engel, Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, today delivered the following opening remarks at the hearing "The Importance of U.S. Assistance to Central America":

"We convene this morning on an urgent matter: the Trump Administration’s decision to choke off American assistance to our partners in El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala.

"I was in El Salvador a couple of weeks ago, along with Ranking Member McCaul, Mr. Espaillat, and Mr. Curtis.

"For me, this visit was a real mix of emotions. 

"On the one hand, we saw up close the direct, meaningful impact of our USAID investments. We’re helping to build a better future for the people of El Salvador, so children and families have opportunities to build prosperous lives for themselves, so they aren’t forced to make the dangerous journey to our southern border. We met with a group of young people training to be software engineers. You could see the excitement on their faces—their vision of a brighter future was so inspiring.

"And then the news landed like a ton of bricks: the Trump Administration planned to cut off foreign assistance. It was heartbreaking. I thought about what reality those children would face if this misguided decision went forward. 

"Now, I can’t say I’m surprised that an administration that breaks apart families and puts children in cages would make such a cruel policy decision. But if the President’s goal is to stop illegal immigration, this decision just makes no sense.

"Instead of a real shot at a prosperous life in their own country, all too many of the students we met instead face poverty and violence—the root causes that push people in Central America to leave their homes in search of a better life. 

"And with the Administration’s decision, we’re not just talking about development assistance.

"In San Salvador, we also met with FBI agents leading our Transnational Anti-Gang Task Force. With State Department funding, the FBI established these teams over the past decade to counter the growth of MS-13, the 18th Street Gang, and other violent criminals. These units train Salvadoran police officers and work closely with them to take down gang leadership structures in the United States and Central America. They literally make our communities and constituents safer.

"Guess what happens to the funding for this initiative if the President gets his way? It disappears. We should all remember that the next time the President rails about MS-13, the next time he stokes fear by saying these brutal criminals are taking over neighborhoods. Talk about cutting off your nose to spite your face.
And as the United States exits stage right from Central America, there’s no doubt who’s waiting in the wings. 

"Last year, El Salvador dropped recognition of Taiwan in favor of China. The Salvadoran President-elect has kept the door open to reversing this decision. But I can only imagine what he’s thinking now. And while Guatemala and Honduras still recognize Taiwan and resisted China’s pressure so far, President Trump has cleared the way for China to move in and put down deeper roots.

"What an unforced error.

"The little bit of good news I’ve seen since this decision was announced is the complete, bipartisan rejection of this misguided and counterproductive decision. I have no doubt that Congress will use every tool at his disposal to push back. 

"I’m grateful to Ranking Member McCaul for raising the alarm on this issue and working with me to pull this hearing together so quickly. I look forward to working with the Ranking Member on legislation I am developing on the Northern Triangle. I’ve also worked with other members across the aisle on these issues. Mr. Smith and I have championed the Inter-American Foundation and its grassroots approach to development in places like the Western Highlands in Guatemala. And I was pleased to see Representative Granger, the top Republican on the Appropriations Committee, say that she does not support a suspension of aid to Central America. 

"Even members of the President’s own Administration have fought for aid to the Northern Triangle. Just last month, the soon-to-be Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan said, “We need to continue to support the governments in Central America to improve economic opportunities to address poverty and hunger and to improve governance and security.” 

"I couldn’t agree more. I only hope the President will listen to Secretary McAleenan and rethink his ill-considered decision to suspend aid to the region."

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