EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) — Republican lawmakers are vehemently opposing the Biden administration’s plans to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to migrant children and parents who were separated at the border.
The Wall Street Journal first reported that the government was considering payments of around $450,000 to settle lawsuits with each person affected by the Trump-era “zero tolerance” policy. The Associated Press, which also spoke with a person familiar with the talks, said the figure would likely be lower, but not by much.
On Tuesday, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and fellow Republican senators sent a letter to President Joe Biden expressing their opposition to the settlements, saying the Administration is seeking to financially reward aliens who broke our laws.”
“Rewarding illegal immigration with financial payments runs counter to our laws and would only serve to encourage more lawlessness at our border,” the letter says.
The letter was signed by Sens. Chuck Grassley of Iowa; Lindsey Graham of South Carolina; John Kennedy of Louisiana; Mike Lee, Utah; Ted Cruz of Texas; Ben Sasse Nebraska; Josh Hawley of Missouri; Tom Cotton of Arkansas; Tom Tillis of North Carolina; and Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee.
The letter cites the unprecedented number of migrant apprehensions at the southern border, which in the Fiscal Year 2021 hit a record 1.7 million.
“Already this year, this administration has pursued border policies that have undermined our national security and created a preventable crisis at the United States-Mexico border. … All the while, our nation continues to see a record number of encounters at the border, including a current caravan of thousands of migrants from across the globe working its way north through Mexico to the United States.”
What started as a pilot program in El Paso, the zero-tolerance policy resulted in the separation of about 5,500 children from their parents so that they could face criminal prosecution for crossing the border illegally.
The payments under consideration are intended to compensate for the psychological trauma, WSJ reported, though the amounts could vary depending on the families’ circumstances.
In his letter, Cornyn said the government has already signed a settlement agreement in 2018 to address concerns about family separation, questioning why the government would pay potentially more than $1 billion based on allegations that DHS intentionally caused them emotional harm.
“… These illegal immigrants disregarded our immigration processes cut in front of those seeking to legally enter our nation, and put children at risk of great personal injury or death by placing them in the hands of abusive smugglers,” the letter says. “Not only would these settlements be breathtakingly unjust and unwise, but they reinforce the conditions that make it easy for the cartels to recruit more people to undertake the treacherous journey to our southwest border, and serve only to encourage more illegal immigration.”
The origins of the family-separation policy were front and center during the confirmation hearing for Chad Wolf, President Donald Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Homeland Security. At the time, congressional Democrats came out against Wolf, insisting that he was an early architect of the family separation policy.
In a September 2020 letter to then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and then-Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee Chairman Sen. Ron Johnson, the all-Democrat Congressional Hispanic Caucus said Wolf was unfit for the job.
“Apart from the egregious nature of family separation, it emerged that the policy did not include measures to reunite families, triggering a child migration crisis,” the letter read. “The process to reunite all families could take years and the children separated at the border have been left with a lifetime of trauma. Mr. Wolf, who proposed family separation, does not deserve a promotion.”
On Tuesday, Cruz discussed his opposition to the settlements on Fox News, calling it “stunning” and comparing it to the $100,000 that families of service members when they die in combat.
“Joe Biden wants to send $450,000 of taxpayer money per illegal alien,” Cruz said. “I think it’s absolutely abusive, it’s ridiculous, And it’s not what Biden campaigned on. It’s an example of the radicals driving the agenda.”
The criticisms are also coming from House Republicans like U.S. Rep. Yvette Herrell, of New Mexico, who joined New York Rep. Elise Stefanik and Lousiana Rep. Steve Scalise in “calling out Biden’s reckless proposal.”
“Instead of securing the border, finishing the wall, and protecting Americans, this administration wants to give away your hard earned tax dollars,” Herrel wrote on Twitter.
But experts tell the Washinton Post that the settlements make sense from a governmental and fiscal perspective since the government could face much-larger payouts if the litigation were to move forward.
Jesse Bless, the director of litigation at the American Immigration Lawyers Association, told the Post that “the U.S. government has a distinct interest in settling and not extensively airing this ugly chapter in its recent history — even if it was clearly the doing of the prior administration.”