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After Biden remarks, officials pushed to lower amounts paid to separated migrants, lawyers say

Biden told a reporter "it's not true" separated migrants would get $450,000 each. Soon after, lawyers say, officials called and said amounts were too high.
Image: Staff escort immigrants to class at the U.S. government's holding center for migrant children in Carrizo Springs, Texas, on July 9, 2019.
Staff escort immigrants to class at the U.S. government's holding center for migrant children in Carrizo Springs, Texas, on July 9, 2019.Eric Gay / AP file

WASHINGTON — Lawyers negotiating payments for migrant families who were separated by the Trump administration when they crossed the U.S. border say President Joe Biden’s remarks at a press conference on Wednesday may have hurt prospects for their clients receiving large payouts.

A Fox News reporter asked Biden at a press conference on Wednesday about reports that the separated families stood to be paid up to $450,000 per person or "possibly $1 million per family."

The Wall Street Journal first reported last week that the families could be paid $450,000 per person and NBC News reported that separated individuals stood to receive hundreds of thousands of dollars to compensate for the trauma they endured.

“It’s not true,” Biden said. “That’s not going to happen.”

Shortly after Biden’s comments, lawyers from the Justice Department reached out to lawyers representing the families, including those from the American Civil Liberties Union.

The conversations were first reported by CNN.

In a statement on Thursday, ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero said, “The president’s comments and congressional pushback do appear to have affected settlement negotiations, which were admittedly in flux.”

While the negotiations are still ongoing, Romero said, the Justice Department “communicated on Wednesday evening that the settlement numbers for separated families were higher than where the settlement could land.”

Shortly after Biden’s comments, Romero said it appeared Biden “may not have been fully briefed about the actions of his very own Justice Department as it carefully considered the crimes committed against thousands of families separated from their children as an intentional government policy.”

Under former President Donald Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy in 2018, and a pilot program in 2017, more than 5,600 children were separated from their parents because their parents crossed the border illegally with them. Until the policy, crossing the border illegally, a misdemeanor under U.S. law, did not result in parents who crossed with children being federally prosecuted and therefore separated from their children.

The Trump administration did not have a system in place to quickly reunite the families it separated. Today, more than 1,000 families are estimated to still be separated from each other, according to the White House. In many cases the parents were deported back to their home countries while their children remained in the U.S. And, according to court records, more than 300 parents of separated children have still not been located.