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President Biden last week pushed back on reports that the government is in talks to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to immigrant families who were separated at the border during the Trump administration, calling the reports “garbage” when asked about them by a Fox News reporter.
The next day a White House spokesperson clarified that the Department of Justice is in fact considering the payouts but for a purpose not included in the Fox reporter’s question. The money wouldn’t be used as some form of reparations but rather to settle hundreds of lawsuits brought by families seeking damages for the suffering they endured as a result of the policy. Biden’s strong denial was in reference to the reported size of the payments, roughly $450,000 per person, and up to $1 billion in total, the spokesperson said.
About 5,500 children were separated from their families under then-President Donald Trump’s “zero-tolerance” immigration policy. The practice was compared to torture and child abuse by health experts and was denounced as a violation of human rights by the United Nations. The policy was formally ended in the summer of 2018, but the parents of hundreds of children still have not been located.
Why there’s debate
News of the potential payments sparked an outcry from Republicans, with many claiming the government would essentially be “rewarding” migrants for crossing into the country and encouraging “lawlessness at our border.” Some conservative legal analysts have taken issue with the idea that the Biden administration would settle the lawsuits rather than defend the government’s immigration authority in court.
Advocates for the payments say financial restitution is the least the U.S. can do to offer restitution to families who suffered, and in many cases still suffer, intense trauma as the result of what one attorney called “deliberate, calculated and illegal government-sponsored cruelty” against people exercising their legal right to seek asylum. Some immigration law experts also say settling is the most practical path because the families have such a strong legal argument that their rights were violated. These experts say the government would waste millions litigating the cases only to have to pay out substantially more money than it would have had it settled in the first place.
The White House has said the decision over whether to settle the cases, and for how much, is entirely up to the Justice Department. The American Civil Liberties Union, which is representing some of the families, said negotiations are ongoing, and the DOJ has communicated that the dollar amount originally reported is “higher than where the settlement could land.”
The government makes similar payments all the time
“A proposed monetary settlement is not atypical in federal court litigation where rights have been violated. It would be appropriate in these horrific cases of family separation.” — Geoffrey Hoffman, immigration law expert, to Houston Chronicle
Settling the cases will prevent family separation from ever being used again
“Ultimately, the horrific trauma inflicted on parents and children who were separated is lasting and has long-term consequences; no amount of money can erase it. But it’s crucial to create an economic-justice precedent so that future presidents never again consider enacting this harmful and cruel policy.” — Marcela García, Boston Globe
Letting the cases go to trial would be disastrous
“Ultimately, the United States stands to pay large settlements, likely larger than what could be negotiated now. And the litigation process would further tarnish our national reputation if our country seeks to avoid responsibility for inflicting these horrors. So much for the shining city on a hill.” — Joyce White Vance, Washington Post
Settling the case would help the country move forward from a shameful era
“These families have been waiting very long for some semblance of justice after they were monstrously wronged by our government. Monetary compensation won’t undo the PTSD or bring back the lost time between parents and children. It can, however, at least help them move forward. Let’s not draw this out longer than necessary. It’s time to pay up.” — Editorial, Daily News
The government has a legal and moral obligation to compensate the families
“The trauma in this case was the point, explicitly used as a tactic by the US government to try and deter families from seeking safety in the United States. The US government then bears the responsibility to compensate families for this trauma that was caused.” — Amy Fischer, Amnesty International USA advocacy director, to Vox
Family separation may have been cruel, but it wasn’t illegal
“The thought of paying settlements to alien families, led by adults who were intentionally violating our laws by attempting to enter the United States unlawfully, should anger Americans. Even if one concedes that the Trump policy was rash or poorly implemented, it was — unlike the migrants’ behavior — entirely lawful.” — Andrew C. McCarthy, National Review
The biggest problem is the enormous sums reportedly being considered
“There’s nothing wrong with settling these cases, but the size of the payoffs is wildly excessive.” — Dan McLaughlin, New York Post
The government shouldn’t settle cases it has a strong chance to win
“The lawyers who brought the suits, including the ACLU, know full well that there would be challenges proving their case and more challenges proving that their clients suffered nearly a million dollars’ worth of emotional distress resulting from family separations. … Why the rush to give them whatever they ask for? Because the White House doesn’t want to be criticized by progressives for rightfully fighting for taxpayers while the ACLU litigates in the press.” — Dan McLaughlin, New York Post
Paying the families will invite more people to cross into the U.S.
“If it comes to fruition and anything remotely resembling these payments are made, imagine the impact it will have on those in Central America, Haiti and other parts of the world who are thinking of coming to the U.S. and need a little more incentive to make the long, dangerous trek: a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, along with the ability to live in America permanently.” — Joe Concha, The Hill
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