UPDATE – Trump: US to begin cutting aid to Central America

ADDS FLAKE COMMENTS IN GRAFS 8-9

By Michael Hernandez

WASHINGTON (AA) – Washington will begin cutting foreign assistance to three Central American countries plagued by violence and poverty over a migrant caravan winding its way towards America, U.S. President Donald Trump said Monday.

"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.," Trump said on Twitter.

In retaliation, Trump said, the U.S. "will now begin cutting off, or substantially reducing, the massive foreign aid routinely given to them." He previously threatened to take the action, but with Congress on recess until after next month's midterm elections it is unclear to what extent he can take such action.

The comments come as a migrant caravan makes its way north through Mexico bound for the U.S. border. It originated in Honduras, which along with Guatemala and El Salvador, has been hit hard by gang violence and economic woes.

All three of the countries underwent violent civil wars in the 1980's.

"Sadly, it looks like Mexico’s Police and Military are unable to stop the Caravan heading to the Southern Border of the United States," Trump said.

"Criminals and unknown Middle Easterners are mixed in," Trump added without providing evidence to support his claims. "I have alerted Border Patrol and Military that this is a National Emergency. "

Responding to Trump's claim regarding people of Middle Eastern origin, outgoing Republican Senator Jeff Flake dismissed the suggestion as a "canard" and "fear tactic."

"These, for the most part, overwhelmingly are people who are either fleeing violence or looking for a better life," Flake, who has often been at odds with the president, said during an event hosted by CNN. "Obviously we can't accept everyone. We have to have border security. But it needs to be done in a thoughtful manner."

Estimates on the size of the group of migrants seeking to come to the U.S. vary, ranging from 5,000 to over 7,000. Aerial images appear to depict a crowd stretching for miles.

Trump has focused his attention on the group repeatedly as the Nov. 6 midterm elections near, saying Monday that voters should "blame the Democrats," his political opponents, for undocumented migration.

"Every time you see a Caravan, or people illegally coming, or attempting to come, into our Country illegally, think of and blame the Democrats for not giving us the votes to change our pathetic Immigration Laws! Remember the Midterms! So unfair to those who come in legally," he said.

While Trump has sought to blame Democrats for undocumented immigration, such as the caravan, he has been unable to pass immigration reform legislation during his nearly two years in office despite Republicans holding the Senate and the House of Representatives.

Two immigration bills Trump backed failed in the legislature.

Trump has long promised to build a wall along the U.S.'s southern border to thwart illegal immigration, initially vowing to have Mexico pay for it. But the U.S.'s southern neighbor has staunchly refused the suggestion, forcing Trump to seek appropriations from Congress to fund the barrier.

He has yet to be able to fulfill his campaign pledge.

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