President Biden says his administration will not financially compensate families who were separated at the border with up to $450,000 in damages, rejecting reports about the hundreds of thousands of dollars in payments as “garbage.”

Soon after the president’s declaration, however, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union said the plan is in the works, and questioned whether Biden has been briefed about it.

After delivering comments on coronavirus vaccinations for children Wednesday, Biden was asked about reports on the payments and pressed by a Fox News reporter on whether such payments would encourage more people to cross the border illegally. “$450,000 per person? Is that what you’re saying?” the president said. “That’s not going to happen.”

The ACLU, however, said it is working with the Biden administration on providing monetary payments.

“President Biden may not have been fully briefed about the actions of his very own Justice Department as it carefully deliberated and considered the crimes committed against thousands of families separated from their children as an intentional governmental policy,” ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero said in a statement. “But if he follows through on what he said, the president is abandoning a core campaign promise to do justice for the thousands of separated families.”

Deputy White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters Thursday that the president is “perfectly comfortable” with the Justice Department “settling with the individuals and families who are currently in litigation with the U.S. government.” She deferred further comment to the Justice Department. However, after being pressed by a Fox News reporter, Jean-Pierre said the president’s comments on Wednesday were in reaction to“the dollar figure that you mentioned to him.”

“DOJ made clear to the plaintiffs that the reported figures are higher than anywhere that a settlement can land,” Jean-Pierre said.

A spokeswoman for the Justice Department confirmed the litigation, saying the department wouldn’t comment because it was ongoing.

After asked to further elaborate on Biden’s Wednesday comment on the DOJ’s plans to negotiate these payments, Jean-Pierre said the president “believes in the department’s independence.”

“That’s something he has been very clear about,” she said. “The Department of Justice should be independent.”

In a Thursday statement to The Washington Post, Romero confirmed Jean-Pierre’s assessment, saying the Justice Department said “the settlement numbers for separated families were higher than where the settlement could land.”

“Parties continue to negotiate,” he said.

A group of Senate Republicans, led by Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.), opposes any payments and introduced an amendment to the defense authorization bill that would block the disbursement of money from the bill to immigrant families.

“Biden’s open-border policies have reached a new crazy level,” Daines said in a statement. “Montana families are struggling with inflation and skyrocketing costs on everything from gas to groceries . . . and now the president wants to give hundreds of thousands of dollars to illegal immigrants.”

At least 25 Republican senators have joined Daines in the effort to block the payments. In a statement, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), a co-sponsor, criticized the Biden administration for not doing more to stem the arrival of undocumented migrants to the border and mischaracterized the damages payment plan by saying the Biden administration is actively offering money to those who arrive at the border.

The payments, which were first reported by the Wall Street Journal last week, would be limited to immigrant families who were separated during the Trump administration, as part of legal settlements. Several groups, including the ACLU, are working to resolve lawsuits filed on behalf of the parents and children who were separated as part of Trump’s “zero tolerance” enforcement policy in 2018. An estimated 3,000 children were taken from their parents by the U.S. government in May and June 2018, at the peak of zero tolerance. Department of Homeland Security officials say the total number taken while Trump was in office exceeds 5,500.

Jean-Pierre on Thursday emphasized that the Biden administration is attempting to settle lawsuits that were caused by the Trump administration’s actions.

“First of all, let’s remember how we got here, how we got to a place where we’re dealing with families being separated,” she told reporters. “This is coming from the last administration’s cruel, inhuman, immoral, immoral policies against just people. . . . That’s how we got here, is because of the last administration. This is what we’re trying to deal with.”

Lee Gelernt, an ACLU attorney who has led the legal effort to reunite the families and has filed a class-action lawsuit seeking damages, told The Washington Post last week that, given the “harm these families suffered” during the Trump administration “they deserve not only adequate monetary compensation but the chance to remain in the United States so that they can have a chance to lead a safe, healthy life.”

The Post reported on Oct. 28 that the dollar amounts that would be paid as damages to these families remain under discussion, but one person with knowledge of the discussions estimated that payouts could total $450,000 per person, with some families potentially receiving $1 million.

Attorneys for DHS, the Justice Department and the Department of Health and Human Services have been involved in the discussions, one of the people familiar with the negotiations who was not authorized to discuss the sensitive talks told The Post.

Romero, in his statement Wednesday, said the ACLU wants to “respectfully remind” Biden that he called the Trump administration’s actions against the separated families “criminal” during a presidential debate, and that he campaigned on rectifying the previous administration’s actions.

“We call on President Biden to right the wrongs of this national tragedy,” Romero said.

Maria Sacchetti contributed to this report.