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Ruben Navarrette: Hardly profiles in courage
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Ruben Navarrette: Hardly profiles in courage

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Ruben Navarrette Jr.

On immigration, President Joe Biden is a profile in cowardice.

Criticize him. Apply pressure. Push him around a little. And, from the looks of it, Biden will reverse course and throw under the bus three of his own cabinet departments -- Justice, Homeland Security, Health and Human Services -- in a desperate attempt to save his doomed presidency.

Less than 24 hours after the Democratic Party got a thumping in this week's gubernatorial race in Virginia and survived a close call in the New Jersey governor's race, a chastened Biden ran and hid under the Resolute Desk. The president announced Wednesday that migrant families separated at the border by the Trump administration will not receive cash payments of $450,000 per person.

This contradicts an article in the Wall Street Journal, additional reporting by CNN and comments by ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero, whose organization sued the federal government over family separation and now appears to be negotiating a settlement.

When a reporter mentioned the story and asked whether such large payments might incentivize people to enter the country illegally, Biden called the report "garbage" and said flatly that the story was "not true."

Yet, as CNN seemed to imply in its coverage, Biden could be playing word games. The president did not say whether these families might wind up with a settlement of a different size, the network reported.

A few days earlier, while in Rome for a meeting with G20 leaders, Biden ignored another question about the alleged plan. The president looked away from the reporter and scratched his forehead.

Meanwhile, at ACLU headquarters in Manhattan, you can bet there is more head-scratching going on as a result of Biden's defensiveness.

In a statement, Romero suggested Biden needed to catch up to his own administration. He also demanded that the Democrat right the wrongs of the Trump administration - as Biden has promised to do.

"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," Romero told Fox News.

"But if he follows through on what he said," he cautioned, "the president is abandoning a core campaign promise to do justice for the thousands of separated families."

According to the ACLU, citing figures provided by the government, the Trump administration separated about 5,500 children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border. In many cases, the authorities could not put back together what they broke. Some parents could not be located, and many children wound up in foster care or locked up for long periods of time.

In a presidential debate with Trump, Biden saw an opening. He called this treatment of migrant families "criminal" and vowed to remedy the situation if elected.

Now that he has been elected, Biden has the chance to make good on his promise. But wait. Where did the chief executive disappear to?

Biden has plenty of company in Washington when it comes to saying things he doesn't mean.

For instance, how strange that the loudest voices in opposition to the idea of paying restitution to a group of people who were so horribly wronged -- who literally had their children snatched from them without due process -- are Republican lawmakers.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., described reports of the payments as "yet another way President Biden is putting America last." McCarthy called it "disgraceful" that "payouts to illegal immigrants could be more than the families of the fallen from 9/11 received."

Like me, McCarthy hails from the rich farmland of Central California. So he's an expert on shoveling manure.

Who said anything about "illegal immigrants"? Many of those who had their children kidnapped by Uncle Sam had traveled to the U.S.-Mexico border from Central America in the hopes of qualifying for refugee status. And, as was pointed out recently by defenders of Haitian migrants, the process of applying for asylum is 100% legal.

Obviously, the Republican Party has trouble living up to its own propaganda. When cracking down on urban street violence, or opposing amnesty for undocumented immigrants, or backing tougher sentencing laws, the GOP preaches the gospel of accountability. It's all about owning up to mistakes, taking responsibility for one's actions and paying restitution.

But how do we put a price tag on accountability? Shall we start the bidding at $450,000 per person?

Ruben Navarrette writes for the Washington Post.

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Michael Paul Williams — a columnist with the Richmond Times-Dispatch — won the 2021 Pulitzer Prize in Commentary "for penetrating and historically insightful columns that guided Richmond, a former capital of the Confederacy, through the painful and complicated process of dismantling the city's monuments to white supremacy."

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