The Trump administration’s freeze on foreign aid to three Central American countries is harming the people who live there, and could ultimately drive an increase in immigration to the U.S., members of Congress heard this week.

An official with Catholic Relief Services testified Wednesday at a hearing held by the House Committee on Foreign Affairs’ Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere, Civilian Security and Trade.

The hearing was titled “Assessing the Impact of Cutting Foreign Assistance to Central America.” Speakers included Rick Jones, a senior technical advisor for CRS in Latin America; Stephen McFarland, a former U.S. Ambassador to Guatemala; and Juan González, a former deputy assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere Affairs.

“Overall, the assistance cut-off is very counterproductive in terms of the Trump administration’s own objectives; the cutoff will tend to spur migration, it will weaken efforts against narcotics traffickers and organized crime, and it increases the risk that in the future, more radical political options, such as Chavez’ rise in Venezuela, will gain strength,” McFarland said during the hearing.

“I will conclude with a recommendation to restore U.S. assistance within a new policy construct that seeks long term reforms in the Northern Triangle to reduce migration as well as to reinforce other USG objectives,” he added.

In April, President Donald Trump announced that the United States would suspend roughly half  a billion in foreign aid that had been set aside for countries in the Northern Triangle of Central America - Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador.

Trump said the cut was necessary because these countries had not done enough to restrict the flow of migrants headed north.

CRS advisor Rick Jones disagreed. He said the programs have helped Central Americans thrive in their own country, providing them with physical security and food. They have also helped farmers overcome the effects of climate change.

Cutting this aid will push more people to migrate, he said, because if the root causes of migration are not addressed, people will leave their homes to seek stability elsewhere.

“Cutting foreign assistance is counterproductive to addressing issues of security, governance and prosperity and will create a vacuum for increased instability, poverty and migration,” Jones said in a Sept. 26 statement.

The cuts have forced international charities to cancel programs, lay off employees, and cut down on social services. Affected groups includeMercy Corps, CARE International, Project Concern International, and Save the Children.

“This is unprecedented,” said Paul Townsend, representative for Catholic Relief Services in Guatemala. “Public funding is always subject to political decisions, but you almost never see this scale of a cut,” he told NPR.

In recent decades, the U.S. government has sought to stem the tide of southern immigration in part by funding nongovernmental organizations that engage in humanitarian initiatives in foreign countries.

According to U.S. Customs and Border Control, more than 115,000 Guatemalan immigrants entered the U.S. through the southern border in 2018.