Despite President Joe Biden's rejection of his predecessor's practice of separating migrant families at the southern border, his administration on Tuesday asked a federal court to throw out a lawsuit seeking compensation for five mothers and their children.
Justice Department attorney Phil MacWilliams told federal judge Susan R. Bolton that the claims are without merit and therefore the case should be dropped. MacWilliams alleged that Yuma, Ariz.-based Border Patrol agents separated families at their discretion, but that this was not consistent with a policy aimed at deterring the arrival of migrants.
Lawyer Diana Reiter, representing the families, stated that the case must go to trial because the separations were part of a larger policy during the government of then-President Donald Trump with the purpose of preventing the arrival of migrants at the border. Since the women were never prosecuted, the separations were unnecessary, she added.
Bolton will issue a decision in the coming weeks.
The US government's attempt to prevent the trial highlights the current difficult position of the Biden government as it faces its own difficulties in dealing with the arrival of migrants.
The mothers and their children sued the US government in 2019, seeking compensation for the trauma they suffered the previous year when they experienced the separation policy firsthand.
In 2021, the Biden administration quietly participated in settlement negotiations to end lawsuits brought on behalf of parents and children who were forcibly separated under the Trump administration's zero-tolerance policy. However, federal authorities withdrew from the talks in December 2021, saying the government would choose to defend each case in court.
Negotiations in cases involving hundreds of plaintiffs took place for months until The Wall Street Journal reported in October 2019 that the government was considering paying about $450,000 to each person affected by the policy. The Associated Press later confirmed that the amount had been disputed.
About 5,500 minors were forcibly separated from their parents in 2018 during the Trump presidency as part of his administration's attempt to stop people coming into the United States through its southern border, including migrants presenting themselves to request asylum. , just as the law allowed. Later that year, Trump ended the practice of separating families amid widespread outrage.
The Biden administration has reversed some of Trump's measures designed to stop migrants from reaching the border, even if they were doing so legally.
The American Immigration Council filed suit on behalf of the mothers and their children, who are also represented by the law firm of Reiter, Arnold & Porter, as well as the National Immigrant Justice Center, the National Immigration Litigation Alliance, and Kairys, Rudovsky, Messing, Feinberg & Lin.