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Under the Trump administration, thousands of families were separated after crossing the United States’ southern border
Families impacted by the policy filed lawsuits against the government, and settlements are still being negotiated by the Department of Justice
Families impacted by the policy could get up to $450,000 per person, but the number is still up in the air as negotiations continue according to published reports
Immigration and families separated at the border have once again bubbled to the top of political conversation -- and the debate is as partisan and divisive as ever.
On Oct. 28, 2021, U.S. Rep. Bryan Steil, R-Janesville, sent out this tweet: "Our border is wide open and now (President Joe) Biden is in talks to pay illegal immigrants $450,000. This is unbelievable."
Is the Biden administration really in talks to pay out $450,000 to illegal immigrants?
Let’s just say it’s far more complicated than the tweet suggests.
Steil’s tweet includes a link to a Wall Street Journal article from Oct. 28, 2021, and an image of an excerpt, with $450,000 circled. The article covers the fact the U.S. is in talks to pay settlements of "around $450,000 a person" to resolve lawsuits filed on behalf of parents and children that were separated at the border during the Trump administration.
Those lawsuits -- and the fact federal taxpayers may be on the hook for major payouts if the government loses -- were not mentioned in Steil’s claim.
When asked for backup for the claim, Steil’s office simply pointed us to the same article.
Let’s look at what happened.
About 5,500 children were separated from their parents at the southern border under President Donald Trump’s "zero-tolerance" policy, mainly in spring 2018, according to an Oct. 28, 2021 New York Times report.
Under the Trump-era policy, thousands of children ranging from infants to teens were taken from their parents, with no provisions to later reunite them. During their time away from their families, many children suffered from issues including heat exhaustion, malnutrition, freezing temperatures and a lack of medical attention.
The family separation policy was a key component of the administration’s crackdown on illegal immigration, aimed at deterring people from coming to the U.S.
The policy also affected families that were legally entitled to asylum due to persecution in their home countries. So, in those cases, the families were not "illegal immigrants" at all, but people who followed the protocols for seeking asylum.
Under the policy, Border Patrol agents charged parents with illegally entering the U.S., imprisoned them and placed their children in government-licensed shelters around the country, the New York Times report said. In early summer 2018, a judge ordered the government to rescind the policy, but government officials then struggled to reunite families.
Lawsuits filed regarding the border separations have described mental-health problems for the children, resulting from the trauma of not having their parents during months of hard conditions, the Wall Street Journal report said.
Justice department lawyers have been working to settle the cases, and Biden has assembled a task force made up of representatives of the departments of Homeland Security, Health and Human Services and State, to reunite migrant families that remained separated and determining how to make amends for the harm caused by the policy, according to the New York Times.
All of that said, the final payment figures are far from clear -- as is the question of when the various lawsuits will be resolved, be it through settlements or at trial.
According to the Wall Street Journal report, sources said families could receive payments close to $1 million in payments -- $450,000 per family member impacted by the policies -- but final numbers could shift. Many families, the article said, would likely get smaller payouts, depending on their circumstances.
The total potential payout could be $1 billion or more.
In theory, if the cases were lost in court, the payouts could be higher.
Only a minority of the families may be eligible for financial compensation, according to the Times report, because many impacted families have not filed complaints, perhaps for fear of reprisal from the government, the Times report said.
Even Biden himself has weighed in on the payments, with his staff saying that he is comfortable with a settlement with families now in litigation, according to a Nov. 7, 2021 Politico report, though he has seemingly expressed disagreement with the $450,000 figure.
Steil claimed that the federal government "is in talks to pay illegal immigrants $450,000."
But that vastly oversimplifies what is happening.
The potential payments are the result of the Trump-era policy that saw thousands of children separated from their parents after crossing the southern border. And in some cases the families involved applied legally for asylum, and are not "illegal immigrants" at all.
While the actual amount for the payouts is still under negotiation, some sources say that individuals could receive $450,000 or more. But that number is far from certain, and only a small percentage of the 5,500 families affected have filed claims.
We rate this claim Half True. While it is partially accurate, it leaves out important details or takes things out of context.
U.S. Rep. Bryan Steil, Twitter, Oct. 28, 2021
Email conversation with Grace White of Bryan Steil’s office, Nov. 5, 2021
Wall Street Journal, "U.S. in talks to pay hundreds of millions to families separated at the border," Oct. 28, 2021
New York Times, "Family members separated at border may each get up to $450,000," Oct. 28, 2021
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