The administration will take each of the 900 cases of detained immigrants in 2018 to court, for judges to determine the reparations.
President Joe Biden’s administration has put an end to the negotiations to compensate hundreds of families separated by Donald Trump’s tough migration policies. The Department of Justice maintained for weeks that there was a possibility of providing compensation of up to $450,000 to each of the victims of one of the Republican’s most controversial steps. This option disappeared this Thursday, according to a legal representative of the affected migrants. However, the government will take the cases individually to court; it will be the judges who decide the amount of compensation for damage that the victims receive, if any.
The decision has been a new setback for Biden’s administration in its promise to change the migration policy. One month ago, the president himself acknowledged that the families separated at the border deserved compensation. “If in fact, because of the outrageous behavior of the last administration, you coming across the border, whether it was legal or illegal, and you lost your child, you lost your child! […] you deserve some kind of compensation no matter what the circumstance,” said the president at the start of November. The reunification of families that were separated at the border was one of the big promises in his campaign.
The president’s words came in response to a series of publications in The Wall Street Journal. The newspaper revealed in October that the Department of Justice was negotiating an agreement in almost 1,000 cases of people detained in 2018. It stated at the time that the authorities were considering paying more than $400,000 per family. This caused a big stir in the Senate, where 11 Republican politicians demanded the government to go back on the agreement. Mitch McConnell, the leader of the Republican minority, considered it to be “beyond parody.” A source from the White House confirmed that the payment would be less, but negotiations continued.
This Thursday, the change of plans was confirmed. Lee Gelernt, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union who had formed part of the negotiation, confirmed that the administration had left the table, agreeing to take each case to court separately. “History will not look kindly on the Biden administration’s decision not to stand up for these small children,” Gelernt told the WSJ. The activist suggested that the politics in Washington was the factor that led to the breakdown in negotiations.
Analysts believe the agreement could become an obstacle for the Democrats in the campaign for the midterm elections in 2022, where part of the Congress is renewed. Biden’s government, which has approval ratings that barely top 40%, is fighting to change the narrative of a migration crisis that exploded weeks after he arrived in the White House in January. The Border Patrol made more than 1.6 million arrests at the Mexican border between October 2020 and October 2021. In November more than 173,000 people were detained, an increase of 5% compared to the previous month. This is a new milestone in a year where the flood of migrants has broken every record.
With the pressure on for elections that seem unfavorable, Biden’s government has decided to continue with some migration policies implemented by Trump. Early this month the administration relaunched the controversial Migrant Protection Protocols, informally known as Remain in Mexico, by court order. This program means asylum seekers have to stay outside U.S. territory while they await the outcome of their case.
The government has promised to respond to requests within 180 days and has extended it to keep other immigrants outside the United States, but is considering some exceptions. Among those are immigrants with disabilities or mental health problems, the elderly and those who have been discriminated against in their countries of origin for their sexual identity. This has yet to happen. Washington has confirmed that the pandemic delayed legal proceedings and that now there are fewer than 1.3 million immigration cases to resolve.
The government is also keeping intact the regulation known as Title 42, an emergency measure that Trump set up in March 2020, at the start of the pandemic, which allows anyone who arrives in the United States without documentation to be rapidly deported. This has been a useful tool that Biden has used to free up the border with Mexico, a hot topic which has brought him many problems in domestic politics.