Amid a polarizing election, the last presidential debate took place on Thursday night, aiming to cover a variety of topics that both candidates were required to answer without interruption: COVID-19 plans, racial justice, and climate change. But one of the most heated (and unmuted) back-and-forths arose when immigration was brought up — specifically, President Donald Trump’s record on human rights abuses. The immigration portion of the debate began with Trump struggling to respond to a striking report about 545 migrant children separated from their parents by the Trump administration.
“The administration has reversed its zero tolerance policy, but the United States can't locate the parents of more than 500 children who were separated from them. How will these families ever be reunited?” asked moderator Kristen Welker. Naturally, Trump refused to give a clear answer: "These children are brought here by coyotes and lots of bad people, cartels, and they used to use them to get into our country,” Trump responded, with no evidence. He then used the opportunity to talk about the strength of the border and pivoted to blaming Obama — and by virtue Biden — for the policies and procedures the Obama administration built around immigration.
Though Biden called him out on his lie about smugglers and pointed out that, “These 500 plus kids came with parents, they separated them at the border to make it a disincentive to come to begin with,” Trump continued to deflect responsibility. And in a shocking statement, Trump revealed his real feelings about family separation when he boasted about the detention centers, saying, “They are so well taken care of. They’re in facilities that were so clean.”
But Trump espouses more and more false statements around his administration's immigration policies over the course of the debate. And in order to better navigate the influx of Trump Lies™, we've debunked several of the president's statements from last night's debate.
Contrary to what he said, at least six children have died in custody this year, and his administration has argued in court that it doesn’t need to provide detained children with a toothbrush, towels, dry clothing, soap, or sleep. Children and families have been found tightly packed into cells, held in closed cells, and children as young as five months old have also been separated from their families — all at the hands of Trump's policies.
In another heated moment, Trump accused Biden of allowing “murderers” and “rapists” to enter the country and be released into the population. However, there is no such thing as an official “catch and release” policy. What Trump is actually referring to is the laws that require migrants to be released from detention centers while they’re waiting for court proceedings. Often, they’re released because judges are backlogged with cases and there are a limited number of beds in detention centers. Trump conjectured that only “those with the lowest IQ” come back. Yet according to a report released by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse in 2019, more than 80% of immigrants attend their court hearings.
When pressed, Trump shouted “Who built the cages?” back at Biden again and again. It’s true that the Obama administration did build migrant holding facilities with the intention to hold migrant children for 72 hours before releasing them to federal agencies for placement. Policies under Obama and Biden were to separate families only for specific reasons — including parents carrying drugs — that were not standard cases of illegal entry. Still, the deflection only served to take away from the fact that Trump has continued to separate families more broadly, and children and families have been held in facilities for much longer under Trump’s stricter policies.
During the rest of the debate, as Trump threw out inaccurate statement after statement, he also brought up that he was “the least racist person in this room,” while speaking to Welker, a Black woman. Does anything else need to be said? At the very least, one can only hope that’s the last time anyone will have to sit through him lying his way through an event on prime-time television.