US president Donald Trump has said his government will begin cutting aid to three Central American countries he accused of failing to stop thousands of migrants heading for the US border.
However, across his administration there was no indication of any action in response to what he tweeted was a “National Emergy” (sic) regarding migrants from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador.
White House officials were unable to provide an explanation for the president’s threats, which reflected both his apparent frustration with the migrant caravan and his determination to transform it into Republican election gains ahead of mid-term polls next month.
Federal agencies said they had received no guidance on the president’s declaration, issued as he attempts to make illegal immigration a focus of the elections.
If Mr Trump should follow through with his threat to end or greatly reduce US aid, that could worsen the poverty and violence that are a root cause of the migration he has been railing against, critics said.
Mr Trump tweeted, “Sadly, it looks like Mexico’s Police and Military are unable to stop the Caravan heading to the Southern Border of the United States.”
He added without providing evidence that “criminals and unknown Middle Easterners are mixed in”.
“I have alerted Border Patrol and Military that this is a National Emergy,” he wrote. “Must change laws!”
Associated Press journalists travelling with the caravan for more than a week have spoken with Hondurans, Guatemalans and Salvadorans but have not met any of the “Middle Easterners” that Mr Trump claimed had “mixed in” with the Central American migrants.
It was clear, though, that more migrants are continuing to join the caravan.
Mr Trump’s tweets marked the latest escalation of his efforts to thrust immigration politics into the national conversation in the closing weeks of the congressional elections.
He and his senior advisers have long believed the issue – a centrepiece of his winning presidential campaign – is key to revving up his base and motivating Republican voters to turn out in November.
“Blame the Democrats,” he wrote. “Remember the midterms.”
At a campaign rally in Houston on Monday night, the president falsely accused Democrats of “encouraging millions of illegal aliens to break our laws, violate our borders and overwhelm our nation”.
For months, Mr Trump has sought to use foreign aid as a cudgel more broadly, threatening to withhold humanitarian and other aid from “enemies of America” and using it to pressure foreign governments to bend to his will. On Monday, he said he would be making good on his threat.
“Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador were not able to do the job of stopping people from leaving their country and coming illegally to the U.S. We will now begin cutting off, or substantially reducing, the massive foreign aid routinely given to them,” he wrote.
He added later at the White House: “We have been giving so much money to so many different countries for so long that it’s not fair and it’s not good. And then when we ask them to keep their people in their country, they’re unable to do it.”
However, it is unclear whether the president’s tweets had any policy implications.
A Pentagon spokesman, Army Lt Col Jamie Davis, said the Pentagon had received no new orders to provide troops for border security. A State Department official said the agency had not been given any instructions on eliminating or reducing aid to Central American countries.
It is US congress, and not the president, which appropriates aid money. The White House would have to notify congress if it wanted to cut or reallocate aid, which could delay or complicate the process.
The three countries received about 500 million dollars (£384 million) from the US in fiscal year 2017. That money funds programmes that promote economic development and education, as well as supporting democracy and human rights, among other issues.