Widespread extortion in Central America explains why many seek asylum in the U.S., but some advocates fear prospects of large payments will fuel threats against families who were separated at the border, the Associated Press reports. It is far from clear whether families will receive any money. Negotiations to settle claims for damages ended amid political outrage over payments after the news that the Justice Department was considering $450,000 a person to compensate for suffering, or $900,000 for a parent and child. “People here think that I have lots of money,” said a 47-year-old Guatemalan business owner whose wife was separated from their son. He has become more nervous because of news reports on the settlement talks. He now changes his cellphone number every two weeks.
Ricardo de Anda, an attorney for the Guatemalan man, said five of the 72 families he represents have told him they were threatened after news coverage of the possible payments. One in Guatemala was targeted in an attempted kidnapping. The Homeland Security Department’s Family Reunification Task Force, which is aiming to reunite nearly 2,000 children with their parents in the U.S. had planned for the possibility of extortion, realizing that such threats are common in Central America. It, set up a system to channel reports through the U.N. refugee agency. The task force has reunited about 112 children with their parents in the U.S.. They are being granted permission to stay in the country for at least three years while they pursue asylum or seek permanent status through another program. The talks are delicate for the administration, which has been criticized for considering large payouts. President Biden himself said, “That’s not going to happen,” when asked in November about the $450,000 figure, and later clarified that he backed some compensation.