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The parents of 270 migrant children separated from their families at the U.S.-Mexico border during the Trump administration have so far not been found, the Justice Department and American Civil Liberties Union said in a court filing Wednesday. And on Wednesday, President Joe Biden publicly rejected the idea of large financial compensation payments to separated families.
The ACLU and DOJ embarked on a joint task force to reunite the families this year, and were successful in reuniting 33 families in September, the filing said. Since that task force was formed, nearly 60 families have been reunited.
But the slow progress underscores that even years after former President Donald Trump signed an executive order to ostensibly—but not practically—ending the family separation policy, the crisis is not over and the damage is permanent.
The filing came on the same day that Biden publicly shot down the idea of $450,000 payments to the families whose separations he’s described in the past as “criminal.”
Asked Wednesday about a recent Wall Street Journal report floating the prospect that the federal government could compensate separated families with $450,000 payments and up to $1 million per family, Biden called the report “garbage.”
“$450,000 per person? Is that what you’re saying?” Biden said in response to a question from Fox News. “That’s not going to happen.”
More than 5,500 children were separated from their families during the Trump administration, according to the Journal. So far, around 940 claims for compensation have been filed, the Journal reported.
Biden’s refusal of the payments came after a group of Republican senators led by Sen. John Cornyn sent a letter to Biden claiming that “rewarding illegal immigration with financial payments runs counter to our laws and would only serve to encourage more lawlessness at our border.”
Such payments would not be for “illegal immigration,” but rather compensation for the trauma inflicted by the family separation policy.
Despite calling the family separation policy “a weapon against desperate mothers, fathers, and children seeking safety and a better life” during last year’s presidential campaign and promising to build a more humane immigration system, Biden has fallen short of advocates’ expectations.
The problems with federal immigration policy fully burst into public view in September, when Border Patrol agents were filmed charging at Haitian refugees on horseback and using lariats to threaten to whip migrants.
Afterwards, the Department of Homeland Security temporarily suspended the horse patrol, and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas promised to quickly conclude an investigation into the incident within “days.” But as of last week, two Border Patrol agents seen in the video hadn’t even been interviewed, CNN reported.
“The investigation is ongoing. The Department is committed to a thorough, independent, and objective process. We are also committed to transparency and will release the results of the investigation once it is complete,” DHS told VICE News in an emailed statement.
Biden’s response in the family separation case also runs contrary to what government lawyers and attorneys for the families have told the federal courts, which is that they’re in settlement negotiations and had hoped to reach a deal as early as this month, according to the Journal.
The ACLU, which has been critical of Biden’s immigration record, ripped Biden over the rumored payments and called on him “to right the wrongs of this national tragedy.”
“President Biden may not have been fully briefed about the actions of his very own Justice Department as it carefully deliberated and considered the crimes committed against thousands of families separated from their children as an intentional governmental policy,” ACLU executive director Anthony D. Romero said in a statement.
“But 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.”