President Biden Clarifies That He Supports Settlements with Migrant Families Separated at Border Under Trump

The White House's message cleanup continued through the weekend after Biden initially denied news reports about possible payments to the families

President Joe Biden receives a third shot of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine
President Joe Biden. Photo: Ken Cedeno/POOL/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

President Joe Biden is trying to set the record straight — again — about reports his administration might pay up to $450,000 each to members of migrant families separated at the border during Donald Trump's presidency.

While Biden initially pushed back against stories about possible payments, he told the press on Saturday that those comments were misconstrued: "The number [$450,000] is what I was referring to."

"If in fact, because of the outrageous behavior of the last administration, you were coming across the border, whether it was legal or illegal, and you lost your child ... you deserve some kind of compensation, no matter what the circumstance," he said.

"What that will be, I have no idea," he said.

This echoes what White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre said on Thursday, amid the back-and-forth over the reported negotiations.

"If it saves taxpayer dollars and puts the disastrous history of the previous administration's use of 'zero tolerance' and family separation behind us, the president is perfectly comfortable with the Department of Justice settling with the individuals and families who are currently in litigation with the U.S. government," she said, referring more specific questions to the DOJ.

Jean-Pierre said that "what he [the president] was reacting to was the dollar figure that was mentioned."

The White House's clarifications continued through the weekend after Biden had forcefully denied the initial news reports about possibly payments to the migrant families.

"That's not going to happen," Biden told reporters last Wednesday after being asked if the compensation might entice migrants to make dangerous journeys across the southern border.

Sources had told The New York Times that Biden officials were in ongoing negotiations with attorneys for families affected by Trump's controversial "zero-tolerance" immigration policy, which had Border Patrol agents charging and detaining adult migrants for illegal entry at the U.S.-Mexico border while sending their children to shelters across the country.

Sources told the Times that the payments could be less than the $450,000 figure but each member of a family who was directly affected by the policy would be eligible. The Wall Street Journal reported similarly but cast the payments as intended to resolve legal claims.

At the time, the White House and Department of Justice declined to comment to PEOPLE.

But on Wednesday Biden called the reports "garbage" and said, "It's not true."

family separation
Migrants walk towards El Chaparral port of entry in Tijuana, Mexico, at the border with the United States on June 21, 2018. GUILLERMO ARIAS/AFP via Getty

The American Civil Liberties Union, which has sued on behalf of some migrants affected by the child separation policy, reacted to Biden's comments on Wednesday.

"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," ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero said in a statement. "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. We call on President Biden to right the wrongs of this national tragedy."

The ACLU says more than 5,500 children were separated from their families. Trump signed an executive order in June 2018 reversing the practice, which had drawn overwhelming backlash.

Since entering the White House in January, the Biden administration has worked to locate separated children and parents and bring them together through the Task Force on the Reunification of Families.

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