WASHINGTON — Thousands of immigrant parents and children separated at the U.S. border due to Trump administration policies may soon be eligible for hundreds of thousands of dollars per person in compensation, according to three sources familiar with ongoing negotiations in a lawsuit filed on behalf of separated families.
The Wall Street Journal first reported Thursday that the Biden administration is in talks to offer immigrant parents separated from children and children about $450,000 per person. This means that if a parent and child are separated at the border, they will jointly be eligible for a combined payment of $900,000.
The talks come as part of negotiations between the Ministry of Justice and lawyers representing separated families in a number of tort cases that allege the families were harmed when they were forcibly separated.
The total payments remain unknown as negotiations continue, the sources said. If enough parents and children are found, one source said, the US government could pay hundreds of millions of dollars to compensate these families for what they went through.
Under former President Donald Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy in 2018, and the pilot program in 2017, more than 5,600 children were separated from their parents simply because their parents illegally crossed the border with them. Even this policy, illegal border crossing, which is a misdemeanor under US law, has not resulted in parents who crossed with their children being federally prosecuted and thus separated from their children.
The Trump administration had no system in place to reunite families that were quickly separated. Today, it is estimated that more than 1,000 families remain separated from one another, according to the White House. In many cases, the parents were deported to their home countries while their children remained in the US, and according to court records, no more than 300 parents of separated children have been located.
Lee Gilert, an ACLU attorney who represents separated families in a federal lawsuit, told me.
The Biden administration has set up a task force to track down and work to reunite separated immigrant families. So far, the task force has reunited just over 50 families. Lawyers representing those families hope more will be reunited soon after the Biden administration agreed to allow deported parents to return to the United States on the basis of permanent or temporary parole.
The payments under negotiation will go to parents and children whether they are in the US or Central America. Some lawyers worry that the large influx of money could make them targets for gangs in Central American countries.
The Ministry of Justice declined to comment on the status of the negotiations.