Families Separated at Border Now Fear Extortion Attempts | Political News


WASHINGTON (AP) — For the 30-year-old Honduran woman, the worst seemed to be over. She’s been reunited with her son who, as a 6-year-old, was separated from her under the Trump administration. She’s working construction in North Carolina. And attorneys were negotiating a payment for families like hers that endured separations.

But reports about those negotiations have created a new worry: extortion attempts stemming from the mistaken belief that she received a huge payout. Her family has already received demands for $5,000 a month.

“Apparently, I am a millionaire now,” said the woman, who, like others interviewed by The Associated Press, spoke on condition of anonymity due to fears 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 am desperate, really.”

While specific reports are isolated, widespread extortion in Central America explains why many seek asylum in the United States in the first place. Some advocates fear prospects of large payments will fuel many more threats. An attorney for the woman and other families has asked U.S. officials to consider admitting more relatives because of the threats.

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It is far from clear whether families will receive any money at all from the U.S. government. Negotiations to settle claims for damages ended amid political outrage over payments erupted following a report in the The Wall Street Journal that the Justice Department was considering $450,000 a person to compensate for suffering — or $900,000 for a parent and child. A person familiar with the talks who spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because discussions were private confirmed that figure had been floated.

“People here think that I have lots of money,” said a 47-year-old business owner in northern Guatemala whose wife was separated from their son. He has become more nervous because of news reports on the settlement talks 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 live in Atlanta after being separated at the border for more than a month in 2018. The man said he was getting text messages at the time threatening to kidnap his son if he didn’t pay money.

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

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

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

Ricardo de Anda, an attorney for the Honduran woman and 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.

“These families have told us that they are now the subject of rumors in their communities as to…

Read More: Families Separated at Border Now Fear Extortion Attempts | Political News

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