President Joe Biden says his administration will not provide financial compensation to families separated at the border in damages of up to $ 450,000, rejecting reports of hundreds of thousands of dollars in payments as “rubbish.”
However, shortly after the president’s announcement, the American Civil Liberties Union executive director said the plan was in development and asked if Biden had been informed of it.
After Biden commented on the coronavirus vaccination for children on Wednesday, he was asked about the payment reports and a Fox News reporter insisted whether such payments would encourage more people to cross the border illegally. “$ 450,000 per person? Are you saying that? “- said the president.” This will not happen. “
However, the ACLU said it is working with the Biden administration to secure cash payments.
“President Biden may not have been fully briefed on the actions of his own Justice Department as it carefully viewed the crimes committed against thousands of families separated from their children as deliberate government policy,” said ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero. statement. “But if he does what he said, the president will backtrack on the campaign’s main pledge to pay tribute to thousands of torn families.”
White House Deputy Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters Thursday that the president is “perfectly comfortable” that the Justice Department “is agreeing with individuals and families currently in litigation with the US government.” She deferred further comments until the Justice Department. However, after pressure from a Fox News reporter, Jean-Pierre said the president’s comments on Wednesday were in reaction to “the dollar amount you specified.”
“The Ministry of Justice has made it clear to the plaintiffs that the figures are higher than anywhere else where settlement may take place,” Jean-Pierre said.
The Ministry of Justice did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Asked for more details on Biden’s comment on Wednesday about the Justice Department’s plans to reconcile these payments, Jean-Pierre said the president “believes in the agency’s independence.”
“This is what he stated very clearly,” she said. “The Ministry of Justice must be independent.”
In a statement released Thursday to The Washington Post, Romero confirmed Jean-Pierre’s assessment, saying the Justice Department had said that “the number of settlements for separated families was higher than where a settlement could land.”
“The parties continue to negotiate,” he said.
A Senate Republican group led by Senator Steve Danes of Montana opposed any payments and amended a defense authorization bill that would block the payment of money from the bill to immigrant families.
“Biden’s policy of open borders has reached insane new levels,” Danes said in a statement. “Montana families are struggling with inflation and skyrocketing prices for everything from gas to food. … … and now the president wants to transfer hundreds of thousands of dollars to illegal immigrants. ”
At least 25 Republican senators have joined Danes to block payments. In a statement, one of Senator Ron Johnson, Wisconsin’s sponsors, criticized the Biden administration for not doing more to stop illegal migrants from arriving at the border and mischaracterized the compensation plan, stating that the Biden administration was actively offering money to those who who arrives at the border.
The payments, first reported by the Wall Street Journal last week, will be limited to immigrant families who were divided during the Trump administration under legal agreements. Several groups, including the ACLU, are working to resolve lawsuits filed on behalf of parents and children who were separated under Trump’s coercive zero-tolerance policy in 2018. An estimated 3,000 children were taken away from their parents by the US government in 2018. May and June 2018, at the peak of zero tolerance. Department of Homeland Security officials say the total number of people detained while Trump was in power exceeds 5,500.
Jean-Pierre on Thursday stressed that the Biden administration is trying to settle the lawsuits caused by the actions of the Trump administration.
“First of all, let’s remember how we got here, how we ended up in a situation where we are dealing with separated families,” she told reporters. “This is due to the cruel, inhuman, immoral, immoral policies of the last administration towards just people. … … … That’s how we got here, because of the last administration. This is what we are trying to cope with. ”
Lee Gelernt, the ACLU attorney who led legal efforts to reunite families and filed a class-action lawsuit for damages, told The Washington Post last week that given the “harm done to these families” during the Trump administration, “they deserve more than adequate monetary compensation, but also a chance to stay in the United States to be able to lead a safe and healthy life. ”
On October 28, The Post reported that the dollar amounts that will be paid to these families in damages are still under discussion, but one person familiar with the discussions estimated that the payments could be $ 450,000 per person, and some families could potentially get 1 million dollars.
Attorneys for DHS, the Department of Justice and the Department of Health and Human Services participated in the discussions, one person familiar with the negotiations told The Post who was not authorized to discuss the delicate negotiations.
Romero said in a statement Wednesday that the ACLU wants to “respectfully remind” Biden that he called the Trump administration’s actions against separated families “criminal” during the presidential debate and that he campaigned to redress the previous administration’s actions.
“We call on President Biden to correct the mistakes of this national tragedy,” Romero said.
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Maria Sacchetti of the Washington Post contributed to this report.