President Joe Biden said Wednesday that families separated at the border under the Trump administration’s so-called zero-tolerance policy will not receive payments of $450,000, but he did not go into detail about any possible monetary settlements for them.
Biden, following remarks about Covid-19 vaccine authorization for children ages 5 to 11, was asked if payments of that size might incentivize people to try and enter the country illegally. The President responded by calling the report “garbage.”
“It’s not true,” he said.
In 2018, the Trump administration announced its “zero tolerance” policy, in which the Justice Department initiated criminal prosecutions of every adult illegally crossing the border, and was ended after widespread opposition. The policy resulted in the separation of thousands of families, including those with infants, some only a few months old, because children can’t be kept in federal jail with their parents.
A source familiar with the matter told CNN last week that migrant families who were forcibly separated at the US-Mexico border under the policy could receive hundreds of thousands dollars in compensation as part of settlement negotiations between the Justice Department and the families’ lawyers.
More than 3,000 children were separated from their families at the US-Mexico border under former President Donald Trump. It’s unclear how many people would be eligible for payments.
Negotiations are ongoing and it’s unknown what the final figure will be, the source familiar with the matter told CNN at the time, noting that different numbers have been discussed at various times. Financial compensation would likely vary and not all would get the maximum agreed-upon amount.
The Wall Street Journal first reported that the federal government was considering payments of $450,000 per individual affected by the policy. The American Civil Liberties Union filed a class action lawsuit in 2019 seeking damages for the toll the separations took on families, and attorneys representing families have filed separate claims.
In a statement Wednesday, ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero said Biden must right the wrongs of the Trump administration.
“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 said. “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. We respectfully remind President Biden that he called these actions ‘criminal’ in a debate with then-President Trump, and campaigned on remedying and rectifying the lawlessness of the Trump administration.”
Outside groups and a government watchdog have found over the years that children separated from their families under the policy experienced trauma. A 2019 Health and Human Services inspector general report included accounts of facility staff detailing the inconsolable crying of children when they were separated, the kids’ confusion and belief they had been abandoned by their parents.
CNN’s Priscilla Alvarez contributed to this report.