Biden admin may pay millions to migrant families separated at border under Trump

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WASHINGTON — Thousands of migrant parents and children separated from each other at the U.S. border by 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 brought on behalf of separated families.

The Wall Street Journal first reported on Thursday that the Biden administration is in talks to offer separated migrant parents and children around $450,000 per person. That would mean that if a parent and a child were separated at the border, together they would be eligible for a combined payment of $900,000.

The talks are part of negotiations between the Justice Department and lawyers representing the separated families in a number of tort cases that have claimed the families experienced harm when they were forcibly separated.

The sum total of the payments remains unknown as negotiations continue, the sources said. But if enough parents and children are located, one source said, the U.S. government could be paying out 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 a pilot program in 2017, more than 5,600 children were separated from their parents simply because their parents crossed the border illegally with them. Until the policy, crossing the border illegally, a misdemeanor under U.S. law, did not result in parents who crossed with children being federally prosecuted and therefore separated from their children.

The Trump administration did not have a system in place to quickly reunite the families it separated. Today, more than 1,000 families are estimated to still be separated from each other, according to the White House. In many cases the parents were deported back to their home countries while their children remained in the U.S. And, according to court records, more than 300 parents of separated children have still not been located.

“These families, particularly the young children, were deliberately traumatized by our government and deserve not only adequate compensation but the chance to remain here so they can begin to heal,” said Lee Gelernt, an attorney for the ACLU who is representing separated families in a federal lawsuit.

The Biden administration established a task force to track down and work toward reunification for separated migrant families. So far, the task force has reunited just over 50 families. Lawyers representing those families hope many more may soon be reunited after the Biden administration agrees to allow deported parents to return to the United States on a permanent or temporary parole basis.

The payments under negotiation would go to the parents and children whether they are in the U.S. or Central America. Some lawyers worry the large influx of cash may make them targets for gangs in Central American countries.

The Justice Department declined to comment on the status of the negotiations.