Former Virginia Gov. L. Douglas Wilder said Democrats will pay a price at the ballot box next year if they start cutting taxpayer-funded checks to migrants.
Mr. Wilder, the nation’s first Black governor, said the Biden administration’s plan for payoffs, if successful, will dent the party’s image in the eyes of voters who feel left behind despite playing by the rules.
“When you are saying to the American people you are going to spend countless billions of dollars for people illegally here and those who have been here struggling to climb up the ladder for years have not been given a chance then that is going to be a problem,” Mr. Wilder said in an interview Thursday with The Washington Times.
The Wall Street Journal broke the news late last month that the Biden administration is considering giving payments to immigrants who were crossing the border illegally and say they suffered emotional trauma from family separations under President Trump’s zero-tolerance border policy.
The report said some families could receive upward of $450,000 for each individual directly affected by the policy, which led to thousands of family separations. The total bill could run as high as $1 billion, the report said.
Critics have since noted that the families of fallen service members receive a $100,000 death gratuity.
The payments for immigrants would come as part of a settlement to resolve lawsuits the ACLU and other advocacy groups have filed on behalf of families and parents over the way they were treated during the Trump administration.
President Biden last week scoffed at the reported size of the payments but clarified over the weekend that he supports compensating migrant families who were separated on Mr. Trump’s watch.
“Now here’s the thing. If in fact because of the outrageous behavior of the last administration, you come across the border, whether it was legal or illegal, and you lost your child,” Mr. Biden said. “You lost your child. It’s gone. You deserve some kind of compensation, no matter what the circumstance. What that will be, I have no idea.”
Mr. Wilder said Mr. Biden’s attempts to humanize the payments to the immigrants fell flat. He said the responsibility of the government is to help people who “are already here and who have been forgotten.”
“What about people who have been here the entirety of their lives and never gotten anything?” said Mr. Wilder. “Balancing inequities is one thing, ignoring needs is another.”
Republicans are trying to block payments, warning that if the administration follows through on the idea it will lead to a surge in migrants.
GOP Senators plan to add an amendment to the upcoming defense policy bill that would block the payments. House Republicans also have introduced a bill called the Illegal Immigration Payoff Prohibition Act, that seeks to thwart the payoff push.
The surge of young immigrants at the southern border has raised questions about the Biden administration’s approach.
A Quinnipiac University Poll released last month found that Americans say the economy, 19%; COVID-19, 16%; and immigration, 14%, are the most urgent issues facing the country.
The top issue for Republicans was immigration, 28%; followed by the economy, 24%; and the national debt, 10%.