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Debra Saunders: Break the Law, Win the Lottery

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The most destructive idea from President Joe Biden’s administration is a Department of Justice move to pay around $450,000 to undocumented immigrants for the emotional trauma they experienced thanks to former President Donald Trump’s 2018 family-separation policy.

Break the law. Win the lottery.

“Many Americans think it’s a pretty outrageous idea to offer massive taxpayer-funded payments to illegal immigrants who broke our laws, particularly in the middle of a record-shattering border crisis that this administration has created,” Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, chided Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Tuesday.

Americans would not even know about this scheme if The Wall Street Journal had not run a scoop story on talks with the American Civil Liberties Union and other activist groups in October — with the shocking revelation that payments could add up to close to $1 million per family.

After the story ran, Biden himself seemed unaware of the plan.

Asked by a reporter if the payments would encourage more illegal immigration, Biden responded, “If you guys keep sending that garbage out, yeah, but it’s not true.”

Acting oblivious about this scheme apparently is a Biden administration thing.

Mayorkas tried to distance himself from the talks Tuesday, when he said, “I am not aware of our involvement” with the payment negotiations as he tossed the hot potato to the Department of Justice.

And yet, six-figure and seven-figure payments to compensate families that deliberately violated federal immigration laws seem likely to occur.

The day after Biden called the payments story garbage, White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre walked back Biden’s “not going to happen” remark when she said 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.”

The ACLU put out a cheeky statement in which executive director Anthony D. Romero asserted that the president “may not have been fully briefed about the actions of his very own Justice Department.” Apparently, the ACLU is more plugged in than POTUS.

With some 950 complaints filed, the tab for U.S. taxpayers could be close to $1 billion. And that doesn’t include another 2,000-plus children who were separated from their families, according to advocate estimates.

Jean-Pierre offered that the $450,000 payments might save taxpayers money by eliminating court costs and setting damages below what jurors might allot. But it’s not even clear the lawsuits would prevail under the Federal Tort Claims Act.

If Trump’s separation policy “is legal,” University of California, Berkeley, law school professor John C. Yoo told me, “there would not be an FTCA claim.”

If undocumented immigrants can sue for damages for the trauma they experienced while breaking federal law, why not pay damages to U.S. citizens, like bank robbers or rapists, who also are separated from their children during incarceration?

Activists and lawyers rail about the inhumanity of detaining children — I agree, children shouldn’t be locked up — but they blame Trump and his policies for circumstances that stem from choices made by parents with eyes open.

“It’s not uncommon for people to willingly separate themselves from their child,” said Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies.

If conditions are worthy of big legal payouts, Vaughan noted, migrant parents can choose to take their children and go home.

“The ACLU is going to fight like a junkyard dog for these payments because they get a share of them,” Vaughan warned. But the ACLU doesn’t have to fight, because illegal immigration activists and the administration are friends.

If The Wall Street Journal had not scooped this story, Americans probably wouldn’t learn about a deal until the ink was dry.

With nearly 1.7 million migrants apprehended at the border over the last fiscal year, Biden seems to be doing everything in his power to make that number grow.

Grassley also asked Mayorkas under what circumstances it would be appropriate for illegal immigrants “to receive more money from the federal government than” the $100,000 paid to fallen service members’ families.

This was the opportunity for the secretary, a former federal prosecutor, to disavow the bonanza and send a message to would-be migrants that they should not pack their kids off to a forbidding border.

And he didn’t take it.

Debra J. Saunders is a fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Chapman Center for Citizen Leadership. Contact her at dsaunders@discovery.org.

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