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EDITORIAL: Biden bows to political reality, reverses course on payouts to illegal immigrants

It’s a lot easier to give away hundreds of millions of dollars to those in the country illegally when no one knows about it.

That’s exactly what the Biden administration was intent on doing, as reported by The Wall Street Journal in October. The money would have gone to illegal immigrants who ended up separated during the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance policy.

The initial talks — intended to settle lawsuits brought by the ACLU on behalf of those immigrants — were for payouts of around $450,000 per person. For a parent and two children, the windfall could have topped $1.3 million. Total payouts could have come close to $1 billion.

Giving million-dollar payouts to illegal immigrants sounded like a conservative parody of liberal immigration policy. Even President Joe Biden originally spoke out against it.

Mr. Biden initially called the Journal report “garbage” and insisted that $450,000 per-person payouts were “not going to happen.” His tone shifted a few days later. Apparently, he found out that his administration was indeed considering just that.

“Whether (the border crossing) was legal or illegal, and you lost your child,” the president said. “You lost your child, it’s gone — you deserve some kind of compensation, no matter what the circumstance.”

That position wasn’t tenable politically, however. Mr. Biden already has low approval ratings on immigration. This week, the Real Clear Politics polling average on his handling of immigration puts the president almost 26 points under water. Incentivizing illegal immigration with the possibility of million-dollar payouts would have worsened illegal border crossings, which have already hit record levels.

In a nod to political reality, the Biden administration reversed course. After the public learned about the payouts, the Justice Department retracted a written offer it put forward. Last week, the Journal reported that the government has cut off settlement talks entirely. Cases will now proceed individually. More than 900 families have filed claims, seeking more than $3 million per family.

It seems one of the reasons the Biden administration sought the settlement was to avoid the optics of battling these families in court. But taxpayers shouldn’t be shelling out $1 billion to help a presidential administration avoid upsetting party activists.

“It’s good to see the Biden administration come to its senses and abandon its plan to hand out potentially billions of dollars to illegal immigrants,” Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said in a statement. “That sort of hare-brained scheme would have diverted federal dollars to people who knowingly broke our immigration laws.”

As Mr. Biden found out, public pressure and common sense can be a powerful combination.

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