The federal government has pulled out of negotiations to pay massive settlements to illegal immigrant families separated at the border during the Trump administration, attorneys for the families said Thursday.
The American Civil Liberties Union, which had been leading negotiations on the reported $450,000 payments, said the talks have ended though it didn’t know why.
“It’s hard to understand DOJ’s decision other than it was influenced by political considerations,” Lee Gelernt, an ACLU lawyer, told The Associated Press.
The Justice Department confirmed the breakdown.
“While the parties have been unable to reach a global settlement agreement at this time, we remain committed to engaging with the plaintiffs and to bringing justice to the victims of this abhorrent policy,” the department said.
Immigrant rights activists called the move an act of “political cowardice.”
SEE ALSO: ACLU launches ad campaign to pressure Biden over illegal immigrant families
“After months of negotiations, the Biden administration today abandoned the thousands of families torn apart by the prior administration,” said Tami Goodlette, director of litigation at the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services.
The payments had become a political loser for the Biden team, with polls showing the public decidedly opposed to the idea.
Faced with that opposition, the ACLU launched an ad campaign in the Washington area this week to try to amp up pressure on President Biden to “repair” the damage to the families.
“We are now officially putting the Biden administration on notice: Thousands of little children were separated from their parents and remain without justice,” ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero said on Wednesday.
By Thursday, his organization acknowledged that the negotiations had failed.
AP said the administration informed the ACLU of the move on a conference call. The ACLU said the government, rather than issuing a global payments agreement, plans to argue each case individually.
SEE ALSO: Nation’s capital becomes safe haven for illegals; new DHS rules expand no-go zones for ICE arrests
The Wall Street Journal was the first to report the proposed $450,000 payments.
As news of the talks’ collapse spread, Republicans claimed victory.
“It’s about time,” said Sen. Steve Daines of Montana, one of many Republican lawmakers who had been fighting to derail the payments.
The family separations grew out of the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance border policy, a response to the surge of caravans of migrating Central Americans in 2018.
Before zero tolerance, parents with children would have been caught and quickly ousted or released. The Trump administration sought a stronger deterrent, so it started prosecuting the parents for illegal entry, a misdemeanor.
No family detention facilities are available in federal prisons, so the children were removed from their parents’ custody and placed in government-run shelters. The administration had no system to reunite the families once the parents completed their sentences, usually in just a few days.
Documents released later suggest administration officials saw the separations as part of a deterrent to migrants.
As mass separations sparked a furious public outcry, President Trump called an end to the practice in June 2018. A federal judge ordered the government to work to reunite the families. Three years later, that process is still ongoing.
Immigrant rights advocates say the families still face severe emotional trauma over the separations and deserve compensation.
When first confronted with the proposed payments, Mr. Biden called the report “garbage.” He and the White House later said the president was talking only about the $450,000 figure, not the idea of paying illegal immigrants.
Indeed, several days after denying the reported payments, Mr. Biden said they were justified.
“If, in fact, because of the outrageous behavior of the last administration, you coming across the border, whether it was legally or illegally, and you lost your child — you lost your child. It’s gone — you deserve some kind of compensation, no matter what the circumstance,” the president said. “What that will be, I have no idea.”
The Biden administration last week announced plans to try to write regulations that would severely limit family separations.
The Biden team also has created a task force to try to reunite families, including bringing back some parents who were deported without their children.
Republicans on Capitol Hill tried to force votes on legislation to derail the payments, but Democrats blocked those attempts.
The Washington Times sponsored a survey in late November and earlier this month that found voters strongly opposed the idea of payments. By better than 2-1 — 60% to 29% — voters rejected Mr. Biden’s justification that the trauma to the families justified payments.
A stunning 47% of voters “strongly” rejected the plan, swamping the 13% who strongly agreed with Mr. Biden.
• Stephen Dinan can be reached at email@example.com.
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