Mexico says presidential plane sale to help fund migration plan

Mexico's President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador attends a news conference at the National Palace in Mexico City, Mexico June 10, 2019. REUTERS/Gustavo Graf

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said on Wednesday the sale of the former presidential jet and other aircraft from the last government would help fund efforts to curb migration under a deal struck last week with Washington.

The agreement reached on Friday averted escalating import tariffs of 5% on Mexican goods, which U.S. President Donald Trump had vowed to impose unless Mexico did more to contain migration via Central America to the United States.

In return, Mexico has agreed to toughen up its migration controls, including deploying its National Guard security force to its southern border with Guatemala.

“About how much this plan is going to cost, let me say, we have the budget,” Lopez Obrador said at his regular daily news conference. “It would come out of what we’re going to receive from the sale of the luxurious presidential plane.”

Lopez Obrador said the price tag of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner used by his predecessor Enrique Pena Nieto would start at $150 million, citing a United Nations evaluation. The plane has been on sale for several months.

As soon as he took office in December, the leftist announced plans to sell the plane, whose spacious interior includes a bedroom and is emblazoned with official government seals on the walls and flat-screen monitors.

The jet was acquired in late 2012 for $218 million. It is on sale along with 60 government planes and 70 helicopters.

Lopez Obrador has shunned the often luxurious trappings of Mexico’s wealthy elites, choosing to fly coach.

He has also rolled out a string of welfare programs for the poor and the elderly, cut salaries for top civil servants and says he is saving public money by eliminating corruption.

(Reporting by Daina Beth Solomon, editing by Hugh Bronstein and Susan Thomas)

U.S. states sue Trump administration in showdown over border wall funds

A view shows a new section of the border fence in El Paso, Texas, U.S., as seen from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico February 15, 2019. REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez

By Jeff Mason and Sarah N. Lynch

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A coalition of 16 U.S. states led by California sued President Donald Trump and top members of his administration on Monday to block his decision to declare a national emergency to obtain funds for building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California came after Trump invoked emergency powers on Friday to help build the wall that was his signature 2016 campaign promise.

Trump’s order would allow him to spend on the wall money that Congress appropriated for other purposes. Congress declined to fulfill his request for $5.7 billion to help build the wall this year..

“Today, on Presidents Day, we take President Trump to court to block his misuse of presidential power,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a statement.

“We’re suing President Trump to stop him from unilaterally robbing taxpayer funds lawfully set aside by Congress for the people of our states. For most of us, the office of the presidency is not a place for theater,” added Becerra, a Democrat.

The White House declined to comment on the filing.

In a budget deal passed by Congress to avert a second government shutdown, nearly $1.4 billion was allocated toward border fencing. Trump’s emergency order would give him an additional $6.7 billion beyond what lawmakers authorized.

Three Texas landowners and an environmental group filed the first lawsuit against Trump’s move on Friday, saying it violated the Constitution and would infringe on their property rights.

The legal challenges could slow Trump’s efforts to build the wall, which he says is needed to curb illegal immigration and drug trafficking. The lawsuits could end up at the conservative-leaning U.S. Supreme Court.

Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Virginia, and Michigan joined California in the lawsuit.

The states said Trump’s order would cause them to lose millions of dollars in federal funding for national guard units dealing with counter-drug activities and redirection of funds from authorized military construction projects would damage their economies.

In television interviews on Sunday and Monday, Becerra said the lawsuit would use Trump’s own words against him as evidence that there was no national emergency to declare.

Trump said on Friday he did not need to make the emergency declaration but wanted to speed the process of building the wall. That comment could undercut the government’s legal argument.

“By the president’s own admission, an emergency declaration is not necessary,” the states said in the lawsuit. “The federal government’s own data prove there is no national emergency at the southern border that warrants construction of a wall.”

(Reporting by Jeff Mason and Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

Top U.S. lawmakers to resume border talks, avert shutdown

The personalized gavel of House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-NY), serving as the Chairwoman of a bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers from both the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives, is seen at the start of their first public negotiating session over the U.S. federal government shutdown and border security on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S. January 30, 2019. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The top four Democratic and Republican negotiators in the U.S. Congress on border security funding plan to meet on Monday in an attempt to reach a deal that would avert another partial government shutdown by a Friday deadline.

House of Representatives Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey, a Democrat, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby, a Republican, and two other senior lawmakers will attend the meeting, according to a congressional aide.

Negotiations broke down during the weekend over funding for immigrant detention beds and physical barriers that would be funded along the U.S.-Mexico border.

The lawmakers hope to reach an agreement on Monday to allow time for the legislation to pass the House and Senate and get signed by Republican President Donald Trump by Friday, when funding for the Department of Homeland Security and several other federal agencies expires.

Trump agreed on Jan. 25 to end a 35-day partial U.S. government shutdown without getting the $5.7 billion he had demanded from Congress for a long-promised wall along the border with Mexico. Democrats oppose a wall, calling it ineffective, expensive and immoral.

Instead, a three-week spending deal was reached with congressional leaders to give lawmakers time to resolve their disagreements about how to address border security.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Will Dunham)

Trump pushes border wall fight ahead of State of the Union speech

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting to "discuss fighting human trafficking on the southern border" in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington, U.S., February 1, 2019. REUTERS/Jim Young

By Steve Holland

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump on Tuesday was set to deliver a State of the Union speech challenging Democrats to approve funding for his long-sought border wall, but stopping short of declaring a national emergency over it, at least for now.

At 9 p.m. EST (0200 GMT Wednesday) before a joint session of Congress, Trump likely will stir contention with remarks on immigration policy, after his demand for $5.7 billion in wall funds triggered a historic 35-day partial government shutdown that more than half of Americans blamed him for, according to Reuters/Ipsos polling.

Millions of Americans were expected to watch the address on television, giving the Republican president his biggest opportunity to date to explain why he believes a barrier is needed on the U.S. southern border with Mexico. The speech was delayed for a week because of the shutdown, which ended on Jan. 25.

When Trump takes center stage in the chamber of the House of Representatives for the big speech, sitting behind him over his shoulder will be his main congressional adversary, Democrat Nancy Pelosi, who became House speaker after her party won control of the chamber in November’s elections.

She has shown no sign of budging from her opposition to Trump’s wall-funding demand. That has led Trump to contemplate declaring a national emergency, which he says would let him reallocate funding from elsewhere without congressional action.

A source close to Trump said the president was not expected to take that step, which likely would draw a swift court challenge from Democrats. Instead he will urge a congressional committee to work out a border security deal by Feb. 15.

“He’s going to set the stage,” the source said. “He’ll tell people, ‘Here’s why I should,’ but say, ‘I’m giving Congress another chance to act.'”

Trump continued to push his wall in a Tuesday morning tweet ahead of his evening remarks, noting that the Pentagon has sent more troops to the U.S. southern border.

“We will build a Human Wall if necessary,” he said.

WANTS DEAL FROM CONGRESS

Asked on Tuesday if Trump would use the speech to announce an emergency, White House senior adviser Kellyanne Conway said the president “has an absolute right to do it” but would prefer that lawmakers forge a solution.

“He wants Congress to finish its work and hopefully come to an agreement, put a deal on his desk that he will sign into law,” Conway told reporters at the White House.

Trump’s speech also will offer an olive branch to opponents as he looks toward the 2020 election, targeting areas he sees for potential bipartisan agreement, such as infrastructure improvements, lowering prescription drug costs and healthcare.

A senior administration official said Trump would “encourage Congress to reject the politics of resistance and retribution, and instead adopt a spirit of cooperation and compromise so we can achieve it.”

Senator Angus King, an independent, on Tuesday told MSNBC he saw potential for bipartisan action over opioids, HIV and infrastructure that could be derailed “if he throws down the gauntlet and gives us another lecture on the wall.”

Trump’s message could also be undermined by his threats to go his own way on the long-promised wall if he cannot get Congress to approve the funding he wants. He has said the wall, which he promised during his 2016 campaign and said Mexico would pay for, is needed to deter illegal immigration and drugs.

Some of Trump’s own fellow conservatives are also urging Trump not to declare an emergency. “I’m for whatever works that prevents the level of dysfunction we’ve seen on full display here the last month, and also doesn’t bring about a view on the president’s part that he needs to declare a national emergency,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters last week.

OTHER TOPICS

Trump also will address foreign policy, including support for an effort to coax Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro into leaving power and declaring the Islamic State militant group all but defeated. He will also give an update on trade talks with the Chinese.

Asked if he would announce where he will next meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders declined to give any details in an interview with Fox News Tuesday morning.

Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and White House acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney went over the speech on Monday night with about a dozen supporters including former campaign aides Corey Lewandowski and David Bossie, as well as Matt Schlapp, chairman of the American Conservative Union, a source familiar with the meeting said.

The source said Trump would discuss troop drawdowns in Syria and Afghanistan and that about half the speech would be devoted to foreign policy.

Trump also will claim success on economic policy, including cutting federal regulations, the source said.

Some Democrats have invited guests to the speech to highlight various causes, some at odds with Trump’s policies, making a raucous atmosphere possible inside the House chamber.

Representative Pramila Jayapal said on Monday she would invite climate scientist Lisa Graumlich, dean of the College of the Environment at the University of Washington, to underscore the climate change issue.

“One thing you will see is that the chamber is full and the president is surrounded by women, by people of color, by individuals who have really been hurt by this president and many of the actions that he has taken,” Jayapal said.

Republican strategist and former White House official Raj Shah said the speech offered Trump a chance to turn the page.

“Washington right now looks a little bit petty and a little bit small and the State of the Union is an opportunity to go big and talk in broad themes about what’s good about America and look beyond some of the issues of the last few weeks,” he said.

(Reporting by Steve Holland; Additional reporting by Susan Cornwell, Roberta Rampton and Susan Heavey; Editing by Peter Cooney and Bill Trott)

Shutdown bites economy as Democrats reject Trump invitation to talk

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump walks before speaking to the media as he returns from Camp David to the White House in Washington, U.S., January 6, 2019. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts/File Photo

By Steve Holland and Ginger Gibson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. economy is taking a larger-than-expected hit from the partial government shutdown, White House estimates showed on Tuesday, as congressional Democrats rejected President Donald Trump’s invitation to discuss the issue.

The shutdown dragged into its 25th day on Tuesday with neither Trump nor Democratic congressional leaders showing signs of bending on the topic that triggered it – funding for the wall Trump promised to build along the border with Mexico.

Trump invited a bipartisan group of members of Congress for lunch at 12:30 p.m. EST (1730 GMT) to discuss the standoff but the White House said Democrats turned down the invitation. Nine Republicans were expected to attend.

Trump is insisting Congress shell out $5.7 billion as about 800,000 federal workers go unpaid during the partial shutdown.

“It’s time for the Democrats to come to the table and make a deal,” said White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders.

House Democratic leaders said they did not tell members to boycott Trump’s lunch but had pressed those invited to consider whether the talks would be productive or produce a photo-op for the president.

“We are unified,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told reporters on Tuesday morning.

The Trump administration had initially estimated the shutdown would cost the economy 0.1 percentage point in growth every two weeks that employees were without pay.

But on Tuesday, there was an updated figure: 0.13 percentage point every week because of the impact of work left undone by 380,000 furloughed employees as well as work left aside by federal contractors, a White House official said.

SHUTDOWN IMPACT

The partial shutdown is the longest in U.S. history and its effects have begun to reverberate across the country.

Longer lines have formed at some airports as more security screeners fail to show up for work while food and drug inspections have been curtailed and farmers, stung by recent trade spats, have been unable to receive federal aid.

Speaking on CNBC, Delta Air Lines Inc Chief Executive Officer Ed Bastian said the partial shutdown will cost the airline $25 million in lost revenue in January because fewer government contractors are traveling.

Trump ran for office in 2016 on a promise to build a wall to stop illegal immigration and drug trafficking. He had toyed with the prospect of declaring a national emergency to circumvent Congress to secure the funding, but this week has backed off from that idea, which would attract a court challenge.

Democrats, who took over the U.S. House of Representatives this month, have rejected the border wall but back other border security measures.

They have also insisted that Trump and Republicans reopen government before negotiations occur.

“We can keep on the pressure on negotiations over (border) security but it is long past time that we reopen the government, and make sure it is not federal employees, their families and businesses that are being held hostage,” said Democrat Representative Katherine Clark.

House Democrats have passed a number of bills to fund the roughly one-quarter of federal operations that have been closed, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, has said the chamber will not consider legislation that Trump will not sign into law.

McConnell, who has mainly stayed out of the public fray on the shutdown, on Tuesday accused Democrats of “acrobatic contortions” to avoid negotiating on the shutdown.

(Reporting by Steve Holland, Susan Cornwell, Ginger Gibson, Makini Brice, Susan Heavey; Writing by Roberta Rampton; Editing by Steve Orlofsky and Bill Trott)

White House cites options for funding border wall, avoiding shutdown

Workers on the U.S. side, work on the border wall between Mexico and the U.S., as seen from Tijuana, Mexico, December 13, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins - RC18E76A6270

By Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The White House said on Tuesday it has found a way to build President Donald Trump’s promised border wall without new funding from Congress, stepping away from the president’s threat to shut down the U.S. government over border security disputes.

“We have other ways that we can get to that $5 billion,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said on Fox News. “At the end of the day, we don’t want to shut down the government, we want to shut down the border.”

Trump and Congress, embroiled in a feud over his proposed U.S.-Mexico border wall, have four days to reach a deal before a partial government shutdown could leave about a quarter of the federal workforce without paychecks.

Last week, in a heated exchange at the White House with Democratic leaders in Congress, Trump declared he would be “proud to shut down the government” if he did not get his demand for $5 billion to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Since then, after days with no apparent progress, the senior Republican and Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee huddled with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell just steps from the Senate chamber.

Following that meeting, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby told reporters, “We’re talking seriously about how to reach our goal” of keeping the government funded beyond Friday. He said they were “working with the president, working with the Democrats. There are a lot of variables here.”

A senior Democratic aide, who asked not to be identified, said Trump and Republicans in Congress have floated the idea of lawmakers providing the president $1 billion in new funds to be used for any of his immigration priorities – an idea that Democrats will not accept.

Trump has demanded $5 billion as a down payment on construction of a wall that he argues is needed to keep illegal immigrants and drugs from entering the United States. Building the wall was a key pledge of his 2016 presidential campaign. Trump had originally said Mexico would pay for the wall, but leaders of the United States’ southern neighbor have repeatedly said it would not.

Democrats and some Republicans argue there are less costly, more effective border controls than a wall.

Sanders indicated the White House was backing down from Trump’s threat to shut down the federal government if Congress refused to provide money for his wall.

“There’s certainly a number of different funding sources that we’ve identified that we can use, that we can couple with the money that would be given through congressional appropriations, that would help us get to that $5 billion that the president needs in order to protect our borders,” Sanders said on Fox.

Asked whether the White House was exploring the use of funds, including from the Defense Department, for building the wall and whether that would be legal, Sanders said, “Absolutely.”

But Shelby was less certain.

In response to a reporter’s question on whether Trump could order the Pentagon to shift some of its funds to wall construction, Shelby said: “I don’t know about that.” He added, however, that Trump “does have the power to defend the country” and “the power to protect the border.”

The money Trump wants is a fraction of the roughly $450 billion Congress was poised to approve – before the latest battle over the proposed wall – to fund several agencies which will otherwise run out of money at midnight on Friday.

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu and Richard Cowan; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

Standoff over Trump border wall puts U.S. Congress in budget ‘pickle’

FILE PHOTO: The U.S. Capitol is pictured in Washington, U.S., November 13, 2018. REUTERS/Al Drago/File Photo

By Richard Cowan and Amanda Becker

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump and Congress, embroiled in a feud over his proposed U.S.-Mexico border wall, have only five days to reach a deal before a partial government shutdown could leave about a quarter of the federal workforce without paychecks.

Trump has demanded $5 billion as a down payment on construction of a huge wall that he argues is the only way to keep illegal immigrants and drugs from crossing into the United States, again pushing the proposal in an early morning tweet on Monday. Democrats and some Republicans argue there are less costly, more effective border controls.

FILE PHOTO: Workers on the U.S. side, paint a line on the ground as they work on the border wall between Mexico and the U.S., as seen from Tijuana, Mexico, December 13, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

FILE PHOTO: Workers on the U.S. side, paint a line on the ground as they work on the border wall between Mexico and the U.S., as seen from Tijuana, Mexico, December 13, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

The money Trump wants is only a small fraction of the roughly $450 billion Congress was poised to approve – before the latest battle over the proposed wall – to fund several agencies which will otherwise run out of money on Dec. 21.

Large swaths of the government already are funded through next September, including the U.S. military and agencies that operate public healthcare, education and veterans’ programs.

Several Republican and Democratic congressional aides on Friday said there was no apparent progress being made toward resolving the standoff, after Trump and leading congressional Democrats battled each other on Tuesday in front of television cameras in the White House Oval Office.

“I am proud to shut down the government for border security,” Trump told House of Representatives Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer.

Since then, a senior House Republican aide said his party was “in a pickle” over how to keep the government open.

The aide noted that Republicans, who will control both houses of Congress until Jan. 3, will not be able to muster the minimum 218 votes needed in the House to pass a funding bill if it contains Trump’s demand for border wall money, which Democrats oppose.

Agent J. Cruz of the U.S. Border Patrol looks on along the newly completed wall during U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen's visit to U.S. President Donald Trump's border wall in the El Centro Sector in Calexico, California, U.S. October 26, 2018. REUTERS/Earnie Grafton

Agent J. Cruz of the U.S. Border Patrol looks on along the newly completed wall during U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen’s visit to U.S. President Donald Trump’s border wall in the El Centro Sector in Calexico, California, U.S. October 26, 2018. REUTERS/Earnie Grafton

If funds run out on Dec. 21, the NASA space program would potentially be unfunded, along with national parks, the U.S. diplomatic corps and agriculture programs.

Similarly, the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security would be vulnerable to shutdowns, although “essential” employees, such as FBI agents, airport security screeners and border patrol agents, would still report to work.

Their paychecks, however, would not be issued until the shutdown ends and Congress would have to decide whether to award back pay for them as well as any furloughed workers.

A government in such disarray might not play well for Republicans over the holiday period, especially if Americans also view images for two weeks of Trump vacationing at his exclusive Florida beach-front mansion.

“After the president’s comments earlier this week when he said he was going to own the shutdown, that sealed the deal for Democrats. There is absolutely no reason for them to cut a deal with this president,” said Jim Manley, a political strategist and former Senate Democratic leadership aide.

With the clock ticking, the House is not even bothering to come to work until Wednesday night.

For now, Democrats are waiting for the White House to signal whether it will engage on legislation that would keep programs operating, but without money for Trump’s wall.

White House adviser Stephen Miller told CBS News’ “Face the Nation” program on Sunday that the administration would “do whatever is necessary to build the border wall.” Asked if that included shutting down the government, he said: “If it comes to it, absolutely.”

If not, Manley predicted the government will limp along until Jan. 3, when Democrats take control of the House and Pelosi likely becomes the speaker and promptly advances funding, daring the Republican-led Senate to reject it.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan and Amanda Becker; Additional reporting by Susan Heavey; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh, Leslie Adler and Paul Simao)

U.S. top court rebuffs state bids to cut Planned Parenthood funds

FILE PHOTO: Healthcare activists with Planned Parenthood and the Center for American Progress pass by the Supreme Court as they protest in opposition to the Senate Republican healthcare bill on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., June 28, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

By Andrew Chung

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday rejected appeals by Louisiana and Kansas seeking to end public funding by those states to Planned Parenthood, a national women’s healthcare, and abortion provider, through the Medicaid program.

The justices left intact lower court rulings that prevented the two states from stripping government healthcare funding from local Planned Parenthood affiliates.

Three conservative justices, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch, dissented from the decision by the nine-member court, saying it should have heard the appeals by the states.

The case is one of a number of disputes working their way up to the Supreme Court over state-imposed restrictions on abortion. The two states did not challenge the constitutionality of abortion itself.

Planned Parenthood’s affiliates in Louisiana do not perform abortions, but some in Kansas do. Medicaid, the state-federal health insurance program for low-income Americans, pays for abortions only in limited circumstances, such as when a woman’s life is in danger.

Louisiana and Kansas announced plans to terminate funding for Planned Parenthood through Medicaid after an anti-abortion group released videos in 2015 purporting to show Planned Parenthood executives negotiating the for-profit sale of fetal tissue and body parts. Planned Parenthood denied the allegations and said the videos were heavily edited and misleading.

The organization’s affiliates in each state, as well as several patients, sued in federal court to maintain the funding.

Legal battles over other laws from Republican-led states could reach the court in the next year or two. Some seek to ban abortions in early pregnancy, including Iowa’s prohibition after a fetal heartbeat is detected. Others impose difficult-to-meet regulations on abortion providers such as having formal ties, called admitting privileges, at a local hospital.

(Reporting by Andrew Chung; Editing by Will Dunham)

Immigrant caravan organizer detained after Trump threatens Honduras

Honduran migrants, part of a caravan trying to reach the U.S., are seen during a new leg of their travel in Esquipulas, Guatemala October 16, 2018. REUTERS/Jorge Cabrera

By Doina Chiacu and Jorge Cabrera

WASHINGTON/ESQUIPULAS, Guatemala (Reuters) – The organizer of a migrant caravan from Honduras was detained on Tuesday in Guatemala after U.S. President Donald Trump threatened to withdraw funding and aid from Honduras if the flow of migrants north to the United States was not stopped.

Guatemalan police officers detained Bartolo Fuentes, a former member of the Honduran Congress, from the middle of a large crowd he and three other organizers had led from San Pedro Sula, Honduras, since Saturday, bound for Mexico.

The Honduran security ministry said Fuentes was detained because he “did not comply with Guatemalan immigration rules” and would be deported back to Honduras in the coming hours.

Up to 3,000 migrants, according to organizers’ estimates, crossed from Honduras into Guatemala on Monday on a trek northward, after a standoff with Guatemalan police in riot gear and warnings from Washington that migrants should not try to enter the United States illegally.

Guatemala’s government has not given official figures for how many migrants are in the group.

“The United States has strongly informed the President of Honduras that if the large Caravan of people heading to the U.S. is not stopped and brought back to Honduras, no more money or aid will be given to Honduras, effective immediately!” Trump wrote on Twitter.

It was Trump’s latest effort to demonstrate his administration’s tough stance on immigration.

The message was driven home by Vice President Mike Pence, who wrote in a tweet that he had spoken to Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez.

“Delivered strong message from @POTUS: no more aid if caravan is not stopped. Told him U.S. will not tolerate this blatant disregard for our border & sovereignty,” Pence tweeted.

The move could further encourage Honduras to move closer to China because of what the Central American country sees as weak U.S. support, amid intensified efforts by Beijing to win recognition from Central American countries currently aligned with Taiwan.

Hernandez said last month that cuts in U.S. support for Central America would hinder efforts to stem illegal immigration. He welcomed China’s growing diplomatic presence in the region as an “opportunity.”

In an interview with Reuters, Hernandez lamented that prior U.S. commitments to step up investment in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador had been scaled back since Trump took office.

Honduras is one of a dwindling number of countries that still have formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan, an island nation off the Chinese coast that Beijing views as a renegade province.

Last week, Pence told Central American countries the United States was willing to help with economic development and investment if they did more to tackle mass migration, corruption and gang violence. Thousands of migrants have left the impoverished region in recent years.

Honduran migrants, part of a caravan trying to reach the U.S., board a truck during a new leg of their travel in Esquipulas, Guatemala October 16, 2018. REUTERS/Jorge Cabrera

Honduran migrants, part of a caravan trying to reach the U.S., board a truck during a new leg of their travel in Esquipulas, Guatemala October 16, 2018. REUTERS/Jorge Cabrera

GROWING GROUP

The current group making their way north plan to seek refugee status in Mexico or pass through to the United States, saying they are fleeing poverty and violence.

The group more than doubled in size from Saturday, when it set off from northern Honduras in what has been dubbed “March of the Migrant,” an organizer said.

“What Trump says doesn’t interest us,” organizer Fuentes said in an interview shortly before his detention. “These people are fleeing. These people are not tourists.”

He was traveling with hoards of men, women and children, packs in hand, walking northward on a Guatemalan highway about 55 miles (89 km) from the border with Honduras.

Widespread violence and poverty prompt thousands of Central Americans, mainly from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, to make the arduous journey north toward Mexico and the United States in search of a better life.

Guatemala said in a statement on Sunday that it did not promote or endorse “irregular migration.” Guatemalan police initially blocked migrants from reaching a customs booth, Reuters images showed.

Trump ran for president in 2016 on promises to toughen U.S. immigration policies and build a wall along the 2,000-mile(3,220-km) border with Mexico.

Illegal immigration is likely to be a top issue in Nov. 6 U.S. congressional elections when Democrats are seen as having a good chance of gaining control of the House of Representatives from Trump’s fellow Republicans.

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu in Washington and Jorge Cabera in Esquipulas, Guatemala; additional reporting by Frank Jack Daniel in Mexico City; editing by Frances Kerry and Jonathan Oatis)

Trump threatens to cut U.S. aid to Honduras over immigrants

Guatemalan police officers watch as Honduran migrants, part of a caravan trying to reach the U.S., arrive in Esquipulas city in Guatemala, October 15, 2018. REUTERS/Jorge Cabrera

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday threatened to withdraw funding and aid from Honduras if it does not stop a caravan of people that is heading to the United States.

“The United States has strongly informed the President of Honduras that if the large Caravan of people heading to the U.S. is not stopped and brought back to Honduras, no more money or aid will be given to Honduras, effective immediately!” Trump said on Twitter.

Up to 3,000 migrants crossed from Honduras into Guatemala on Monday on a trek northward, after a standoff with police in riot gear and warnings from Washington that migrants should not try to enter the United States illegally.

The crowd more than doubled in size from Saturday, when some 1,300 people set off from northern Honduras in what has been dubbed “March of the Migrant,” an organizer said. The migrants plan to seek refugee status in Mexico or pass through to the United States.

Reuters could not independently verify the number of participants, but images showed a group carrying backpacks and clogging roads near the border, some waving the Honduran flag.

The impoverished nations of Central America, from which thousands of migrants have fled in recent years, are under mounting pressure from Trump’s administration to do more to curb mass migration.

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Susan Thomas)