Biden Contemplates a Terrible Immigration Idea | Opinion

Since he became president, Joe Biden has done just about everything conceivable to signal that his administration isn't serious about enforcing the nation's immigration laws. But Democrats' latest proposal is so outrageous that it may constitute a turning point. The Biden administration is reportedly considering offering a settlement of up to $450,000 to parents who crossed the border and were separated from their children under the Trump administration. This unprecedented payoff would generate such outrage that it may no longer be possible for the White House or Democrats to go on ignoring voters' growing anger about the border catastrophe it still refuses to call a "crisis."

Donald Trump's family separation policy was a public relations disaster. The optics of weeping children and parents being torn away from each other and of "kids in cages" stirred anger across the political spectrum because it seemed so heartless. Amid the emotional reaction, questions about whether those who were affected had broken the law—or whether any of these unaccompanied children were in fact brought to the border by coyotes who profit off illegal traffic—were ignored.

Though Trump's tough-minded policy did seem to act as intended, deterring would-be smugglers and other criminals from exploiting children, the bad optics and rulings from liberal federal judges forced Trump to back down.

But now, aided by litigators from the American Civil Liberties Union, some of those involved are anticipating a windfall of taxpayer dollars to compensate them for their trouble. The negotiations, first reported by the Wall Street Journal and then confirmed elsewhere, are being conducted by the ACLU with the Departments of Justice, Homeland Security and Health and Human Services. Though it is possible that each individual will not wind up getting the full $450,000, it's clear that the administration has no appetite for fighting the lawsuit.

Biden's cabinet appointees are not merely worried about emotional images of separated families swaying judges and juries. This administration, from the president on down, believes there is something unwholesome about enforcing immigration law. If that means granting every individual who can prove that he or she was part of a separated family vast sums of money, then it appears that Biden is willing to say "so be it."

But what those involved in this legal tangle—which also involves an effort by the ACLU to force the government to give every illegal immigrant, including dubious asylum claimants, a way to remain in the U.S.—are ignoring is that the optics of granting illegal immigrants a winning lottery ticket may be just as bad for Biden as those of separated families were for Trump.

Many Americans felt instinctive sympathy for crying children and anguished parents. But there is a difference between thinking that those families were paying too high a price for crossing the border illegally or making an asylum claim and believing that they are entitled to nearly half a million dollars each.

US border wall
SAN LUIS, AZ - October 08: A man tries to scale the border wall attempting to cross in to the U.S. from Mexico at the border October 08, 2021 in San Luis, Arizona. Nick Ut/Getty Images

The separation of families was doubtless traumatic and governments are liable for paying damages even to criminals when they have been subjected to illegal treatment that violate their constitutional rights. But family separation is not illegal per se. It happens every day when those who are accused of crimes are arrested. When that involves children being left on their own, it often means they, too, are taken into custody and put in some facility or in foster care, both of which can involve trauma. But the fact that family separation at the border produced dramatic videos for television news doesn't mean those who entered the country illegally are entitled to sue the government for the suffering their families endured as a result of their own behavior.

If the government agrees to the ACLU's absurd proposal, it will contribute to the impression it has ceased trying to stop illegal immigration.

It's not just that Biden and congressional Democrats support amnesty for the tens of millions of illegal immigrants already here, or that they halted many of Trump's enforcement measures. With a series of executive orders, Biden has handcuffed border patrol and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. The most recent example was the decision to halt workplace immigration raids, the most effective tactic for detecting and deterring those who would violate the law.

The net effect of all of this has been a record surge of illegal immigration in the past year. The number of detected border crossings and arrests is on pace to total well over two million for 2021, and experts estimate the number of people who crossed over without being caught at 1,000 or more per day.

To date, the administration, congressional Democrats and their mainstream media cheering section have done their best to bury this story. President Biden may have lied about visiting the border and Vice President Kamala Harris, who was supposedly tasked with dealing with the crisis, has mostly avoided it too.

But rewarding those who crossed the border illegally with vast sums of taxpayer dollars at a time of economic distress and rising inflation may be among the most damaging of the unforced errors that the Biden administration has committed. Treating people who broke the law like winning game show contestants blatantly violates the rule of law. It's also a clear example of what happens when the government behaves as if enforcing the law, however tough-minded it might be, is a crime and breaking the law isn't one.

Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of, a senior contributor for The Federalist and a columnist for the New York Post. Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.