President Biden on Wednesday said the U.S. won't be paying $450,000 to migrant children and parents separated from each other under former President Donald Trump's "zero tolerance" immigration policy. Last week, The Wall Street Journal reported that the Justice Department and other federal agencies were in settlement talks with the separated families, and each plaintiff could get up to $450,000 in restitution.
The reported payment talks have been a hot topic among Republican lawmakers and on conservative media networks, and a Fox News correspondent asked Biden on Wednesday if he thought such payments would draw more migrants to the border. "If you guys keep sending that garbage out, yeah," Biden said. "But it's not true." When a reporter followed up, Biden shook his head. "$450,000 per person? Is that what you're saying?" he asked. "That's not going to happen."
The White House referred questions about Biden's comments to the Justice Department, which said it "will not comment on ongoing litigation." But the ACLU, one of the organizations leading the settlement talks on behalf of the migrants, said Wednesday night that the DOJ had assured it the talks were continuing. "If we can't achieve true restitution," ACLU executive director Anthony Romero told the Journal, "we'll take our case on behalf of our clients to court."
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About 5,500 children were separated from their families at the border under Trump's policy, the ACLU says, citing federal data. So far, about 940 families have filed claims, and officials aren't sure how many more will follow suit.
"By pursuing a settlement, the government is seeking to avoid trials that could be even costlier," the Journal reports, citing lawyers who have experience with large-scale cases involving alleged emotional distress. "The people familiar with the matter have said the talks are ongoing and the final numbers could shift. Most of the families that crossed the border from Mexico to seek asylum in the U.S. included one parent and one child, which could mean payments close to $1 million per family. Many families would likely get smaller payouts, depending on their circumstances."
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