US Mulls Large Payments to Members of Families Separated at Border

About 5,500 children were split from their parents under President Donald Trump's “zero tolerance” policy,

Family members embrace Leo Jeancarlo de Leon, 6, after he returned home from the United States on Aug. 8, 2018, near San Marcos, Guatemala. He had been separated from his mother, Lourdes de Leon, for nearly three months as a result of the Trump administration's "zero tolerance" border policy after they were taken into custody by the U.S. Border Patrol. Lourdes was deported and Leo was held at the Cayuga Centers in New York City until he was flown back to Guatemala with eight other children.
John Moore/Getty Images

The U.S. Justice Department is in talks to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to each child and parent who was separated under a Trump-era practice of splitting families at the border, a person familiar with discussions to settle lawsuits said Thursday.

The Wall Street Journal first reported that the government was considering payments around $450,000 to each person affected. A person familiar with the talks told The Associated Press that figure was under consideration but changed, though not dramatically. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the discussions are private.

Nine parents who were deported under the Trump administration's zero-tolerance policy reunited with their children Wednesday after a year and a half of separation. Their return to the U.S. was mandated by a federal judge, who found that the U.S. government acted unlawfully.

The discussions continue, and there is no guarantee the two sides will strike agreement.

About 5,500 children were split from their parents under President Donald Trump's “zero tolerance” policy, under which parents were separated from their children to face criminal prosecution for crossing the border illegally, according to court filings in a federal case in San Diego. Inadequate tracking systems caused many to be apart for an extended time. The payments are intended to compensate for the psychological trauma.

Attorneys for the families are also seeking permanent legal status in the United States for those separated under the practice, which a judge halted in June 2018, six days after Trump stopped it amid an international backlash.

The Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday night.

The settlement talks involve several law firms. The American Civil Liberties Union is representing parents in the San Diego case.

The National Immigration Litigation Alliance represents five mothers and their children who were separated for more than two months, including four children who were sent to holding facilities in New York. A federal judge in Arizona denied the government’s bid to dismiss the case last year.

“No amount of money can compensate for the amount of pain and suffering these parents and children endured under this unconscionable and unprecedented policy,” said Trina Realmuto, executive director of the National Immigration Litigation Alliance.

A Justice Department inspector general's report in January said a “single-minded focus on increasing immigration prosecutions came at the expense of careful and appropriate consideration of the impact of family unit prosecutions and child separations.”

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