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Families separated at border now fear extortion attempts | Politics

Washington (AFP) – For the 30-year-old Honduran woman, the worst seemed to be over. She has been reunited with her son, who was 6 years old, separated from her under the Trump administration. She works in construction in North Carolina. Lawyers were negotiating compensation payments to families like her who had endured the separation.

But reports of those negotiations have created a new concern: extortion attempts stemming from the mistaken belief that it has received huge compensation. Her family has already received requests for $5,000 a month.

“Apparently, I’m a millionaire now,” said the woman, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to concerns for her family’s safety. “I don’t have the money to pay for something like that and I don’t know what to do. I’m really desperate.”

While specific reports are isolated, widespread extortion in Central America explains why so many people seek asylum in the United States in the first place. Some human rights advocates fear that the prospect of large payments will fuel further threats. The woman’s lawyer and other families have asked US officials to consider accepting more relatives because of the threats.

It is not clear if the families will receive any money at all from the US government. Negotiations to settle the compensation claims ended amid political anger over the payments that erupted after a report in the Wall Street Journal that the Justice Department was considering $450,000 per person to compensate for suffering — or $900,000 for a parent and child. A person familiar with the conversations who spoke to the AP on the condition of anonymity because the discussions were private confirmed that the number had been floated.

“People here think I have a lot of money,” said a 47-year-old business owner in northern Guatemala whose wife and son have been separated. He has become more nervous over news reports about the settlement talks and now changes his mobile phone number every two weeks.

The man lives in Guatemala with his 14-year-old daughter, while his wife and 18-year-old son now live in Atlanta after being separated at the border for more than a month in 2018. The man said he was receiving text messages and then threatened to kidnap his son if he didn’t pay.

“My neighbor said to me that day, ‘So you have money, because money was given to people who got separated in the States. And I told him I knew nothing of it,” he said.

The man said he and his daughter tried to go to the United States in 2019. They were kidnapped in Mexico for two weeks, released to Mexican authorities after paying more than $3,000 and deported to Guatemala.

He said, “I don’t live in peace.” “I always look over my shoulder.”

Ricardo de Anda, a Guatemalan women’s and men’s attorney in Honduras, said five of the 72 families he represents told him they had been threatened after news coverage of the potential payments. One was targeted in Guatemala in an attempted kidnapping.

“These families have told us that they are now the subject of rumors in their communities about the apparent wealth of family members in the United States, that they have been monitored by apparent criminal elements, and that they have been warned to be vigilant,” wrote Michelle Branney, Executive Director of the Family Reunification Task Force. The Department of Homeland Security, since criminal gangs consider them the subject of blackmail. In your homeland, now live in constant fear.”

The task force, which aims to reunite nearly 2,000 children with their parents in the United States, had mapped out the possibility of extortion, realizing that such threats were common in Central America, and set up a system to route reports through UN refugees. agency, Brin said in an interview last month.

Barney said she has not received any specific reports yet, but the potential risk underscores the need for the task force to complete its work.

“If families are in unsafe situations and need to be reunited, we are here to work and get that done as soon as possible,” she said.

The task force has brought together about 112 children with their parents in the United States as of last week. They are given permission to remain in the country for at least three years while they are seeking asylum or seeking permanent status through another programme.

Other lawyers told the families they had no first-hand knowledge of the threats associated with potential payments but said they were inevitable, if they hadn’t already occurred. Lawyers suspect that some of the attempts went unreported or were not informed.

“I have no doubts that this is happening in more cases than we know,” said Trina Rilmoto, executive director of the National Immigration Litigation Alliance, which has been involved in settlement talks over financial compensation.

The talks are sensitive for management, which has been criticized for considering large payments. “It’s not going to happen,” President Joe Biden himself said, when asked in November about the $450,000 figure, and later clarified that he supported some compensation.

Last month, the Justice Department pulled out of talks on financial compensation after eight months but has not ruled out a deal.

“While the parties have not been able to reach a comprehensive settlement agreement at this time, we remain committed to engaging with the plaintiffs and bringing justice to the victims of this abhorrent policy,” the department said in a statement.

This month, lawyers for the families renewed a request for the administration to turn over a batch of records on how the policy was set and implemented, indicating the possibility of a drawn-out court battle.

Lawyers said talks continued on non-monetary issues, including family reunification in the United States and other services, such as mental health.

De Anda asked management to consider accepting family members who have been threatened since the news reports. The department has focused on parents and children who have been separated, but says it will consider additional families on a case-by-case basis.

The Honduran woman said her 56-year-old mother received notes asking for $5,000 a month. The mother takes care of the woman’s other children, an 11-year-old son and a 7-year-old daughter. The woman wants everyone in North Carolina to join her.

He warned acquaintances that children might be unsafe in Honduras.

“I’m scared. I don’t know what could happen to my children,” said the woman who took anxiety pills and went to the emergency room with chest pains after receiving threats against her mother.


Spagat reported from San Diego and Torrens from New York.

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