Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Families separated at US border now fear ransom attempt

For the 30-year-old Honduran woman, the worst seemed to be over. She is reunited with her son, who, at the age of 6, was separated from her under the Trump administration. She is doing construction work in North Carolina. And lawyers were negotiating payments for families like hers who endured the separation.

But reports about those talks have raised a new concern: extortion attempts stemming from the mistaken belief that he received a sizable payout. Her family has already received a demand of $5,000 a month.

“Obviously, I’m a millionaire now,” said the woman, who, like others interviewed by The Associated Press, spoke on condition of anonymity because of fear of her family’s safety. “I don’t have the money to do something like this and I don’t know what to do. I’m really desperate.”

While specific reports vary, the widespread extortion in Central America explains why many people seek asylum in the United States. Some advocates fear that the prospect of larger payouts will fuel many more threats. An attorney for the woman and other families has asked US officials to consider accepting more relatives because of the threat.

It is unclear whether the families will receive any money from the US government. Negotiations to settle claims of damages ended amid political outcry over payments that began after a report in wall street journal That the Justice Department was considering $450,000 per person—or $900,000 for parent and child—in compensation for suffering. A person familiar with the conversation spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because the discussions were private and confirmed the figure had been floated.

“People here think I have a lot of money,” said a 47-year-old businessman from northern Guatemala. He has become more nervous because of news reports on the negotiations and now changes his cellphone number every two weeks.

The man lives in Guatemala with his 14-year-old daughter, while his wife and now 18-year-old son lives in Atlanta after being separated at the border for more than a month in 2018. The man said he was receiving text messages. Threatened to kidnap the son if the money was not paid.

“My neighbor said to me the other day, ‘So you have the money, because the money was given to people who were separated in the United States. And I told him that I didn’t know anything about it.”

FILE – Unaccompanied migrant minors, aged 3 to 9, watch television inside a playpen at the US Customs and Border Protection facility, the main detention center for unaccompanied children, in the Rio Grande Valley on March 30, 2021 in Donna, Texas.

The man said that he and his daughter tried to move to the US in 2019. He was kidnapped for two weeks in Mexico, released to Mexican authorities and deported to Guatemala after paying more than $3,000.

“I don’t live in peace,” he said. “I’m always looking over my shoulder.”

Ricardo De Anda, the lawyer for the Honduran woman and the Guatemalan man, said five of the 72 families represented by them told them they were threatened after news coverage of a possible payment. One was targeted in an attempted kidnapping in Guatemala.

“These families have told us that they are now the subject of rumors about the apparent wealth of family members in the US in their communities, that they are under surveillance by apparent criminal elements, and have been warned to remain vigilant. Since criminal gangs are treating them as the subject of extortion,” he wrote to Michelle Brann, executive director of the Department of Homeland Security’s Family Reunification Task Force. “As a result of the (news) leak, family members in the US and those stranded at home now live in constant fear.”

The task force, which aims to reunite approximately 2,000 children in the United States with their parents, had planned for the possibility of extortion, realizing that such threats were common in Central America, And the United Nations established a system to channel refugee reports through. agency, Bran said in an interview last month.

Bran said he had yet to receive any specific reports but the potential threat underscores the need for the task force to complete its task.

“If families are in unsafe conditions and need to be reunited, we are here to work and get it done as quickly as possible,” he said.

As of last week, the task force has reunited about 112 children in the US with their parents. They are being allowed to stay in the country for at least three years while they pursue asylum or seek permanent status through some other program.

FILE - David Zol-Cholom, of Guatemala, hugs his son Byron Zol-Cholom at Los Angeles International Airport, as they separate during the Trump administration's widespread separation of immigrant families, on January 22, 2020 They were separated in Los Angeles.

FILE – David Zol-Cholom, of Guatemala, hugs his son Byron Zol-Cholom at Los Angeles International Airport, as they separate during the Trump administration’s widespread separation of immigrant families, on January 22, 2020 They were separated in Los Angeles.

Other lawyers for the families said they had no direct knowledge of the dangers associated with the potential payments, but said they were inevitable, if they had not already occurred. Lawyers suspect that some attempts have not been reported or have not reached them.

“I have no doubt that this is happening in more cases than we know,” said Trina Realmuto, executive director of the National Immigration Litigation Alliance, which was involved in negotiations on financial compensation.

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

Last month, the Justice Department withdrew from talks over financial compensation after eight months, but did not rule out a settlement.

“While the parties have been unable to reach a global settlement agreement at this time, we remain committed to engaging with the plaintiffs and bringing justice to the victims of this despicable policy,” the department said in a statement.

This month, lawyers for the families renewed a request for the administration to turn over a trove of records on how the policy was conceived and executed, prompting a potentially lengthy court battle.

Lawyers said talks are continuing on non-monetary issues, including reuniting families in the United States and other services such as mental health.

De Anda asked the administration to consider admitting family members who had been threatened following the news reports. The administration has focused on parents and children who were separated, but says it will consider the case of additional families.

A Honduran woman said her 56-year-old mother had 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 to join her in North Carolina.

Acquaintances have warned that children in Honduras could be unsafe.

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

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This article is republished from – Voa News – Read the – original article.

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