Posted on December 17, 2021

Biden Administration Pulls Out of Settlement Talks With Separated Families

Michelle Hackman and Sadie Gurman, Wall Street Journal, December 16, 2021

The Biden administration is ending settlement talks that could have led to payments totaling $1 billion to families separated in 2018 under the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance immigration policy.

The government will instead begin taking individual cases to trial, litigating lawsuits filed on behalf of hundreds of families seeking monetary damages for the psychological trauma they say the separations caused, according to Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s immigrant-rights project and a negotiator in the talks. The organization had been prepared to continue negotiations when the federal government called them off, he said.


As part of the Trump administration’s so-called zero-tolerance enforcement policy, immigration agents separated thousands of children, ranging from infants to teenagers, from their parents at the southern border in 2018 after they had crossed illegally from Mexico to seek asylum in the U.S. In some cases families were forcefully broken up with no provisions to track and later reunite them, government investigations found.

The Wall Street Journal reported in October that the government and lawyers for the families had been in talks to pay up to $450,000 in damages to each person affected by those Trump administration actions. {snip}

Amid political outcry from Republican lawmakers after settlement talks were reported, the government told outside negotiators the number would need to be lowered. The Justice Department had put an offer in writing in October, but retracted it within a week of the news reports and asked for more time to revise it, people familiar with the matter said.


In early November, GOP lawmakers wrote to Mr. Biden urging him to not follow through with the settlement talks. One of them, Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, on Thursday expressed some satisfaction over the changed approach.

“It’s good to see the Biden administration come to its senses and abandon its plan to hand out potentially billions of dollars to illegal immigrants,” he said in a statement. {snip}