The Biden administration is considering issuing payments to immigrant families that were separated at the southern border under the Trump administration around $450,000 a person in compensation, for a total payout that could cost the government more than $1 billion, according to a new report.
People familiar with the matter told the Wall Street Journal that the U.S. Departments of Justice, Homeland Security and Health and Human Services are weighing the payments as they work to resolve lawsuits claiming that the government subjected parents and children to lasting psychological trauma.
The report says most of the families included one parent and one child who crossed the border illegally from Mexico and that many families would likely get smaller payouts, dependent upon their circumstances.
While the American Civil Liberties Union says about 5,500 children were separated from their families at the border under the Trump administration, government officials expect that the number of families eligible under the potential settlement will be smaller.
The separation occurred under Trump’s zero-tolerance policy, which began in April 2018 under an executive order that was issued without warning to other federal agencies that would have to manage the policy, according to the Associated Press. The policy made it so all adults who illegally entered the U.S., including those with children, were referred for prosecution.
Children who entered with those adults were separated from them and placed into the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services. The separations occurred with no process for reuniting the families, as some parents were deported. President Trump later ended the policy in an executive order on June 20, 2018.
The lawsuits claim the separations caused lasting mental-health problems for the children from the trauma of months spent without their parents.
Sources told the Wall Street Journal that the lawsuits demand a range of payouts, with the average request being about $3.4 million per family. Lawyers for the families and the government have told courts that they hope to reach a deal by the end of November.
Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the ACLU’s immigrant-rights project and a lead negotiator on one of the lawsuits, argued that the remedy for the separated families “must include not only meaningful monetary compensation, but a pathway to remain in the country,” according to the report.
“President Biden has agreed that the family separation policy is a historic moral stain on our nation that must be fully remedied,” Gelernt noted.
However, some government lawyers see the payouts as excessive for illegal immigrants who broke the law by crossing the border, the report says. It added that a government lawyer threatened to remove his name from the case in protest of the potential settlement offer.
A separate Department of Homeland Security attorney involved in the talks expressed concern that the payouts could exceed what some families of 9/11 victims received. However, senior departmental officials rejected the comparison as the U.S. government was not responsible for the terrorist attacks. The 9/11 victim compensation fund averaged awards to the deceased of roughly $2 million, tax-free.
Meanwhile, the Biden administration has worked to reunite the separated families and has thus far reunited 52 families. It is reportedly in the process of reuniting about 200 more. The families are given a three-year grant of parole, which grants migrants a form of legal status and the ability to apply for work permits.
Parole authority is intended to be applied on an as-needed basis for “urgent humanitarian purposes” and “significant public benefit.” Officials usually grant few parole cases, though the Biden administration has stepped outside of the norm in granting parole to tens of thousands of illegal immigrants.