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Biden vs. Trump On Family Separation: Here Are the Facts

During the final 2020 presidential debate, Trump's child separation policy was discussed A LOT. Here are the facts.

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On Thursday, October 22nd, President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden had their final of only two Presidential debates on live television in front of the American people. While the first debate was marked by acrimony — a shouting match between two men that was difficult to be contained — and the second debate was actually not a debate at all but two separate Town Halls that were broadcast on different cable networks at the same time due to Trump’s refusal to debate virtually — the third appeared to be a bit more “tame” of an affair.

Kristen Welker, the debate moderator, did a handy job of keeping the candidates in order and was helped by the addition of mute buttons, which would automatically mute a candidates’ microphone after their allotted time to answer any question was up. Still, just because the debate was “tame” doesn’t mean that it was truthful, helpful, or meaningful to American families. Plus, for the first time in the debates, Trump and Biden addressed migration policies and the lives of the 500 plus children who were permanently separated from their parents at the border. 

Here’s What Happened At The Debate 

Debate moderator Kristen Welker asked President Donald Trump about his now-discontinued policy of separating parents from their children at the border when they attempted to immigrate to the United States — pointing to a now oft-cited report that found that at least 545 children have not been able to be reunited with their parents amid the near 4,000 separations that were confirmed to have occurred. 

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What Was Said About Immigration

Trump answered at first by blaming alleged smugglers for bringing children to the border, even though the reality of the situation is that the children had come with their parents. 

“Children are brought here by coyotes and lots of bad people, cartels…” Trump said in unsubstantiated claims. “We now have a stronger border as we’ve ever had. We’re over 400 miles of the brand new wall, you see the numbers, and we let people in, but they have to come in legally,” Trump said. When Welker pressed him on how he would reunite the 500 children who have still not been reunited with their parents, Trump responded, “Let me just say. They built cages. You know, they used to say I built the cages. And then they had a picture in the newspaper. There was a picture of these horrible cages and they said, ‘Look at these cages, President Trump built them.’”

When Welker asked again if the kids Trump had a plan to reunite the kids with their parents, Trump said, “Yes,… we’re trying very hard. But a lot of these kids come up without the parents, they come over through cartels and the coyotes and gangs,” another unsubstantiated claim. 

Biden responded, “These 500 plus kids came with parents. They separated them at the border to make it a disincentive to come to begin with… And guess what? … They got separated from their parents. And it makes us a laughingstock and violates every judge of who we are as a nation.”

Trump then repeatedly asked Joe Biden who built the cages, referring to the Obama administration’s failed immigration policy that might be the darkest mark on that presidential record. That said, under Obama (and Biden) 500 children were not separated from their parents at the border. Regardless of when a “cage” was built, it’s pretty clear how many kids were separated from parents by Trump’s policies. 

So, when Trump began to admit that the family separation did occur — which is something that is undeniable — Trump said, “They are so well taken care of,” of children, some of whom were infants, who were taken from their parents permanently without their parents realizing it or after deporting their parents. 

Did Trump Really Separate 500 Families?

Actually, the Trump administration separated 4,000 families. But the majority of those families have since been reunited, not including the 545 children who have not yet been reunited with their families. Trump did preside over an immigration policy of abject cruelty, one that had long been denied by the Trump Administration but has been proven to be true through dogged reporting. When Trump took office, he enacted a policy of prosecuting every single person who came through the southern border and made it to a detention center. Because it’s United States policy not to detain migrants who are undergoing criminal cases with their children, the de facto policy became to separate all children from all parents who were caught crossing the border, because every single person would be prosecuted for doing so. This meant that even the youngest of children, some of whom were only 4-months-old, could be separated from their parents.

At the outset of the Trump administration, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions said, “We need to take away children,” adding that the administration would refuse to give amnesty to people who brought their children with them to come to the United States. Rod J. Rosenstein, his deputy, said in a separate call that it did not matter how young the children who were brought were, and was mad that government lawyers didn’t want to prosecute to cases of illegal immigration because the children who would be separated from their parents were infants. The Trump administration separated some 4,000 kids from their parents with no plan or record-keeping system for how to reunite them after criminal proceedings concluded against the migrants. Some immigration lawyers did their hardest work to write down as much information as possible for each person they were defending in their courts to try to find their children. Obviously, hundreds of children remain orphaned by the criminal policy.

The policy was abandoned by Trump after widespread global outrage and accusations of major human rights abuses, and for good reason – some 545 kids, some of whom aren’t even a year old, are still separated from their now-deported parents. 

Who Built “the Cages?”

The Obama administration did not do a great job on immigration, to be clear. They deported millions of migrants. And yes, that administration is responsible for building the detainment centers and “the cages,” but these holding cells never designed for long-stay environments for migrants. These were not “cages,” but temporary holding cells for migrants who were often not kept in those centers for long and were released into nearby communities to stay in until they had their court hearings if they were going to be processed or prosecuted for crossing the border illegally. Because the Trump administration decided to prosecute every single migrant who came across the border who they caught, these centers became de-facto prisons, holding kids and parents for months on end as they awaited their court date. 

To be clear, the reason why the word “cages” is being used by Trump is because that’s what the Trump Administration turned those temporary holding cells into: semi-permanent cages. The Obama administration generally practiced a “catch-and-release” policy regarding illegal immigration, and rare events when children were separated from adults was when those adults were suspected of being smugglers. Trump’s policy was to treat every single adult with a child as a smuggler, resulting in children being thrown in cages in the thousands. In reality, the number of children separated from their parents in the Obama administration is likely close to zero.