By Priscilla Alvarez, CNN
Migrant families who were forcibly separated at the US-Mexico border under the Trump administration could receive hundreds of thousands dollars in compensation as part of settlement negotiations between the Justice Department and the families’ lawyers, according to a source familiar with the matter.
More than 3,000 children were separated from their families at the US-Mexico border under Trump. It’s unclear how many people would be eligible for payments.
The Wall Street Journal first reported that the federal government was considering payments of $450,000 per individual affected by the so-called “zero-tolerance policy” that led to the separation of thousands of families. The American Civil Liberties Union filed a class action lawsuit in 2019 seeking damages for the toll the separations took on families. Attorneys representing families have filed separate claims as well.
Outside groups and a government watchdog have found over the years that children separated from their families under the “zero tolerance” policy experienced trauma. A 2019 Health and Human Services inspector general report included accounts of facility staff detailing the inconsolable crying of children when they were separated, the kids’ confusion and belief they had been abandoned by their parents.
The Physicians for Human Rights likened it to “torture,” and the American Academy of Pediatrics told CNN the Trump administration’s practice of separating families at the border was “child abuse.”
Negotiations are ongoing and it’s unknown what the final figure will be, the source familiar with the matter said, noting that different numbers have been discussed at various times. Financial compensation would likely vary and not all would get the maximum agreed-upon amount.
In a Wednesday court filing, the ACLU and other attorneys said they’ve made “meaningful progress toward settlement.”
“The Biden administration is correct to provide relief to the children and families affected by the government’s horrific practice of family separation,” said ACLU attorney Lee Gelernt. “Their suffering is something they will always live with, and it is a deep moral stain on our country. We need to make it right, and this includes not simply any monetary support, but also a path to remain here. This is what is right and fair.”
The Department of Homeland Security referred CNN to the Justice Department, which declined to comment.
In 2018, the Trump administration announced the so-called “zero tolerance” policy, in which the Justice Department initiated criminal prosecutions of every adult illegally crossing the border, and was ended after widespread opposition. The policy resulted in the separation of thousands of families, including those with infants, some only a few months old, because children can’t be kept in federal jail with their parents.
Former Trump administration officials, including former acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf, criticized the potential payments to separated families.
“There are no limits to what this Administration will do,” Wolf said on Twitter. “Everything they have touched re: border security / immigration is wrong for America. But this may be at the top of the list.”
The Biden administration has committed to helping reunite families as part of a family reunification task force and providing services to help those affected by the policy. Since the creation of the task force, 50 children have been reunified with their parents in the United States, according to a recent court filing.
As part of the effort, the Department of Homeland Security has established a process for accepting parole requests, the Department of Health and Human Services is working on facilitating services to support families and the State Department is developing a streamlined system for processing in-country travel document requests.
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