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'Garbage': Biden dismisses reports on payments for migrant families separated under Trump

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President Biden on Wednesday denied recent reports that his administration is looking to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to immigrant families who were separated at the border under the Trump administration, calling the reports “garbage.”

During a press conference at the White House to discuss the COVID-19 vaccine authorization for children, Fox News correspondent Peter Doocy asked Biden whether such payments would incentivize more migrants to try to cross the border illegally.

"If you guys keep sending that garbage out, yeah," the president said. "But it’s not true."

"So this is a garbage report?" Doocy then asked.

"Yeah," Biden replied. "That's not going to happen."

President Biden in Washington on Wednesday. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
President Biden in Washington on Wednesday. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

The Wall Street Journal first reported last week that the Departments of Justice, Homeland Security, and Health and Human Services are considering payments of around $450,000 per person to parents and children separated under the Trump administration’s so-called zero tolerance policy. The payments would stem from several lawsuits filed on behalf of families affected by the separation policy, who say they’ve suffered lasting psychological trauma at the hands of the U.S. government.

On the campaign trail, Biden was an outspoken critic of the Trump administration's policy, which began in May 2018 and resulted in the systematic separation of thousands of asylum-seeking parents from their children as a means of deterring migration across the southern border. Upon entering the White House, Biden created a task force dedicated to reuniting migrant families who remained separated as a result of the Trump policy.

The Journal’s report of possible payouts to separated families, which was echoed by other news outlets including the Washington Post, prompted widespread criticism from Republican lawmakers.

Families with young children gather around a sign on the ground that reads
Families with young children protest the separation of immigrant families with a sit-in at the Hart Senate Office Building in 2018. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

"Honestly, this absurd idea feels like a satirical policy proposal that Republicans would have invented to make a parody out of the radical left,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Monday. “Oh, and the next thing you know, they’ll be sending out million-dollar checks to illegal immigrants."

The same day, 11 Republican senators sent Biden a letter urging him to stop settlement negotiations in the lawsuits and reject the plan for potential payments to migrant families.

The pushback over the reported payouts comes amid intense scrutiny from all sides over the Biden administration’s border policies. Republicans have accused the president of encouraging illegal immigration at the southern border, where apprehensions reached an all-time high during the last fiscal year, which ended in September.

At the same time, progressives and immigration advocates have expressed disappointment with the administration’s approach to asylum seekers at the border, particularly through its continued use of a controversial Trump-era public health order that uses the coronavirus pandemic as a justification for quickly removing migrants who cross the border without giving them the opportunity to request humanitarian protections in the United States. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has repeatedly defended the use of the policy, known as Title 42, including in an interview with Yahoo News last month, in which he called it a “public health imperative,” a claim that has been disputed by public health experts.

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