The US government cut aid to El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras on Saturday after President Donald Trump blasted the Central American countries for sending people to the United States and threatened to close the US-Mexico border. A surge of asylum seekers from the three countries have tried to enter the United States across the southern border in recent days. On Friday, Trump accused the nations of having “set up” immigrant caravans and sent them north. Trump said there was a “very good likelihood” he would close the border this week if Mexico did not stop people reaching the US. Frequent border crossers, including workers and students, worried about the disruption to their lives a shutdown could cause. The State Department said it was carrying out Trump’s directive by ending aid programmes to the three Central American nations, known as the Northern Triangle. The department said it would “engage Congress in the process”, an apparent acknowledgement that it needs lawmakers’ approval to end funding a Congressional aide estimated at about US$700 million. New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called Trump’s order a “reckless announcement” and urged Democrats and Republicans to reject it. Trump told reporters at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida on Friday that the US was paying the three countries “tremendous amounts of money” but received nothing in return. Mario Garcia, a 45-year-old bricklayer in El Salvador, said he was setting off for the US regardless of the president’s threat to close the frontier. “There is no work here and we want to improve [our lives], to get ahead for our families, for our children. I don’t give a damn [what Trump says], I’m determined,” he said. Garcia was one of a group of at least 90 people who left the capital San Salvador over the weekend on buses heading north, in what locals said was the 10th so-called caravan to depart for the US since October. The government of El Salvador said it has tried to stem the flow of people. Trump, who launched his presidential campaign in 2015 with a promise to build a border wall and crack down on illegal immigration, has repeatedly threatened to close the frontier during his two years in office but has not followed through. This time, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and other US officials say border patrol officers have been overwhelmed by a sharp increase in asylum seekers, many of them fleeing violence and economic hardship in the Northern Triangle. March is on track for 100,000 border apprehensions, Homeland Security officials said, which would be the highest monthly number in more than a decade. Most of those people can stay in the US while their asylum claims are processed, which can take years because of immigration court backlogs. Nielsen warned Congress on Thursday that the government faces a “system-wide meltdown” as it tries to care for more than 1,200 unaccompanied children and 6,600 migrant families in its custody. Trump has so far been unable to convince Congress to tighten asylum laws or fund his border wall. He has declared a national emergency to justify redirecting money earmarked for the military to pay for the wall. Mexico has played down the possibility of a border shutdown. Foreign minister Marcelo Ebrard said the country is a good neighbour and does not act on the basis of threats. Artist Cosimo Cavallaro vows to ‘Make America Grate Again’ with cheese wall at Mexico border It was not clear how shutting down ports of entry would deter asylum seekers because they are legally able to request help as soon as they set foot on US soil. But a border shutdown would disrupt tourism and US-Mexico trade that totalled US$612 billion last year, according to the US Census Bureau. A shutdown could lead to factory closures on both sides of the border, industry officials say, because the car and medical sectors especially have woven international supply chains into their business models.