US ends payout talks for separated migrant families

US ends payout talks for separated migrant families

The Biden administration has ceased negotiations about potential payouts to illegal immigrant families separated near the US-Mexico border during the Trump administration after floating payments of up to $450,000 per person, according to a new report.

Lawyers notified of the decision told CBS News Thursday that the Justice Department will no longer be working on settling lawsuits filed on behalf of families separated under President Donald Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy in 2018. 

“It would be an understatement to say we are disappointed that the Biden administration allowed politics to get in the way of helping little children deliberately abused by our government,” American Civil Liberties Union lawyer Lee Gelernt told the outlet. 

Reports of the payouts first emerged in October, when the Wall Street Journal reported the Departments of Justice, Homeland Security and Health and Human Services were considering them as an option to settle the lawsuits filed by the ACLU. 

People walk along a fence after crossing the border from Mexico at the US Customs and Border Protection Paso del Norte Port of Entry along the US-Mexico border between Texas and Chihuahua state on December 9, 2021 in El Paso, Texas.
The Justice Department will no longer be working on settling lawsuits.
PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images

The average demand in each suit added up to roughly $3.4 million per family. However, the reported settlement offer being considered proposed payments of $450,000 per person or around $1 million per family. 

Republicans immediately criticized the proposal, calling it “insanity,” “unacceptable” and a “slap in the face.”

In November, President Biden adamantly defended the potential move, slamming the Trump administration for “outrageous behavior.” 

Lee Gelernt
ACLU lawyer Lee Gelernt said, “It would be an understatement to say we are disappointed” in the Biden administration.
Rich Polk/Getty Images for IMDb

“Whether [the border crossing] was legal or illegal, and you lost your child,” Biden said. “You lost your child, it’s gone — you deserve some kind of compensation, no matter what the circumstance. 

“What that will be,” he added, “I have no idea.” 

Previously, Biden appeared out of the loop on the negotiations after Fox News’ Peter Doocy asked him about the Journal’s initial report on the $1 million payout per family.

In an aerial view, Immigrants walk along an irrigation canal towards a makeshift encampment after crossing into the U.S. from Mexico through a gap in the border wall on December 10, 2021 in Yuma, Arizona.
The Biden administration has ceased negotiations about potential payouts to separated migrant families.
John Moore/Getty Images

“That’s not gonna happen,” Biden said flatly.

“You guys keep sending that garbage out?” the president added. “But it’s not true.”

Not long after, the ACLU released a statement hinting that the president “may not have been fully briefed about the actions of his very own Justice Department.”

ACLU's Anthony D. Romero
The ACLU’s Anthony D. Romero called on President Biden to “right the wrongs of this national tragedy.”
Paul Morigi/Getty Images

“If he follows through on what he said, the president is abandoning a core campaign promise to do justice for the thousands of separated families,” ACLU executive director Anthony D. Romero said. “We call on President Biden to right the wrongs of this national tragedy.”

On Thursday, lawyers representing the families said they would plan to take the government to court now that talks have broken down.

“We are extremely disappointed that the negotiations have terminated and that the administration is walking away from its campaign promise to provide families with some measure of justice,” Trina Realmuto, a lawyer with the National Immigration Litigation Alliance, told CBS News. “We will be moving forward with our litigation.”

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