President Donald Trump said on Twitter on Monday that the United States was cutting off aid to Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador because they hadn’t stopped “people from leaving their country and coming illegally to the U.S.” The remarks are significant: For decades, the United States criticized totalitarian regimes that didn’t allow their citizens to leave in violation of international norms. Now, by demanding that these three countries stop their citizens from leaving, Trump is breaking from that precedent.
The tweet reiterated a threat the president made last week to a caravan of about 7,000 migrants traveling from Central America to the United States via Mexico. The group could reach the U.S. border as soon as this week—if Mexican authorities permit them to cross their territory.
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.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 22, 2018
During the Cold War, Communist countries routinely forbade their citizens from leaving. Nowhere was this more evident than in the Soviet Union. Moscow not only insisted that potential emigrants, especially Jewish ones, obtain an exit visa to leave, but routinely denied such visas, and then labeled the applicants, who came to be known as refuseniks, as disloyal to the country and persecuted them.