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Biden administration ends talks to pay migrant families separated at border

By Jake Thomas
1/6
Activists demonstrate against conditions at the U.S.-Mexico border in downtown Los Angeles on July 2, 2019. File Photo by Jim Ruymen/UPI | <a href="/News_Photos/lp/a1ac481a05f046848079782bbc8d7bdc/" target="_blank">License Photo</a>
Activists demonstrate against conditions at the U.S.-Mexico border in downtown Los Angeles on July 2, 2019. File Photo by Jim Ruymen/UPI | License Photo

Dec. 16 (UPI) -- President Joe Biden's administration has abandoned negotiations to provide cash payments to thousands of migrant families as compensation for a Trump-era policy that separated parents from their children at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Immediately after taking office this year, Biden formed a task force to reunite separated migrant families. Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas said in March that the administration was "working around the clock to replace the cruelty of the past administration with an orderly, humane and safe immigration process."

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During the first presidential debate with Donald Trump last year, Biden called the separation policy "criminal."

Lawyers representing the families told The New York Times that negotiations for compensation stalled after a leak in October suggested that payments could be as high as $450,000.

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Republicans slammed the idea for the payments and Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said Biden wanted to "literally make millionaires out of people who have violated federal law" by crossing the border. Biden dismissed the news reports that said the cash payments would run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

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Lawyers for the families told the Times that they plan to seek compensation in court after being surprised by the sudden reversal.

Attorneys and civil rights groups expressed outrage and disappointment at the development, noting that Biden and other top officials had previously condemned the Trump-era policy and promised to make amends.

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"This is outrageous behavior by the Biden administration, and every decent American should be shocked," Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the ACLU Immigrants' Rights Projects, said in a video posted to Twitter.

He said that children as young as 6 months old were taken from their families upon arriving at the border with Mexico. Parents didn't know the location of their children, who suffered irreparable trauma, he said. While the Trump administration devised the policy, "it's now on the Biden administration," he said.

Gelernt told NBC News that Biden should expect legal action seeking to hold "individual federal officials responsible for family separation."

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"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 U.S. Justice Department said in a statement.

Human rights groups condemned the separation policy, which pulled apart thousands of migrant families. The American Academy of Pediatrics called the policy "government-sanctioned child abuse," and a study last month found that some of the separated children continued to suffer from psychological trauma, even though they have been reunited with family.

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