During a rare presidential debate exchange about immigration, President Trump defended his administration’s family separation policy for undocumented immigrants, which has left hundreds of children without their parents for years, saying they are “so well taken care of” in federal facilities.
Two days before the final presidential debate on Thursday, news reports disclosed that the government has lost track of the parents of 545 children who were taken from them at the border under Trump’s zero tolerance policy. Lawyers who have been trying to track down the parents, in some cases going door to door in Central America, say about two thirds of the parents were deported while their children were left behind in custody or with other relatives.
Trump dodged repeated questions about how his administration plans to reunite those families, instead pointing the finger at former Vice President Joe Biden and the Obama administration for building the “cages” at the border in which children separated from their parents under the Trump policy were held. The children, he said, “are so well taken care of; they’re in facilities that are so clean.”
Thousands of children, some less than a year old, were separated from their parents under the Trump administration’s zero tolerance policy, which was formally instituted in 2018 but implemented secretly as part of a pilot project in some sections of the border starting in 2017. The policy was deliberately designed to deter mostly Central American families from attempting to seek asylum at the border.
Trump ran in 2016 promising to seal the southern border and to crack down on illegal immigrants already in the U.S. As president, he has overseen the implementation of sweeping restrictions on all forms of immigration, both legal and illegal, including a controversial policy that forces asylum seekers, who previously were allowed to remain inside the United States while awaiting a hearing before an immigration judge, to remain in Mexico for the duration of their court proceedings.
In defense of such policies Thursday night, Trump repeated his attack on what he calls the “catch-and-release” policy of the Obama administration, under which immigrants who made it across the border without papers would be released into the population and given a court date to appear for a hearing, often months away. He mocked the program with the false claim that “less than 1 percent of people would come back” to appear in court. Only “those with the lowest IQ” would show up for their scheduled hearings, he said.
In fact, Justice Department data has consistently shown that the vast majority of undocumented immigrants do show up for court.
Biden was also pressed on his immigration record. Moderator Kristen Welker asked why voters should trust the former vice president to overhaul immigration, given that the Obama administration not only failed to pass immigration reform but presided over record deportations as well as family detentions.
“We made a mistake. It took too long to get it right,” Biden said. He pledged that if he is elected he will send Congress a bill outlining a pathway to citizenship for the more than 11 million undocumented people in the U.S. within his first 100 days in office.
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