‘They are so well taken care of’: Trump defends separating migrant children from parents

President Donald Trump said Thursday only immigrants with the “lowest IQ” attend their immigration hearings.

His comment came after moderator Kristen Welker asked during the final presidential debate if his administration had plans to reunite the hundreds of children who remain separated from their parents at the border. A recent court filing revealed that parents of 545 immigrant children separated at the border have not been found.

Trump sidestepped the question, instead attacking a policy from President Barack Obama’s administration known as “catch-and-release,” where immigrants were released from federal custody to await their court hearings, claiming many of them never showed up.

“Only the really … I hate to say this … those with the lowest IQ, they might come back,” Trump said.

It was reminiscent of the press conference Trump held in 2015 to announce his candidacy for president, in which he said Mexicans coming over the border without documentation are “bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

The exchange was the first – and only – mention of immigration in the two debates and town hall meetings that have taken place. Tougher immigration laws and promises of a border wall were cornerstones of Trump’s 2016 election campaign and many of his rallies were filled with chants of “Build that Wall!” But immigration has been eclipsed this year by the novel coronavirus pandemic and a spiraling economy as campaign issues.

On stage Thursday, Trump repeatedly accused Biden of building the steel cages during the Obama administration that act as holding pens for migrants who have crossed into the U.S. without documentation. Photos of children separated from their families and held in the facilities under the Trump administration caused a national uproar two years ago. 

“Who built the cages, Joe?” Trump said over and over. 

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Migrant holding facilities were built in the Obama administration but the intended purpose was to hold migrant children for 72 hours before releasing them to federal agencies for placement. Children and families have been held in the facilities far longer under the Trump administration’s stricter policies. 

Welker also asked Biden why, during his eight years as vice president under former Obama, he wasn’t able to deliver immigration reform, a key promise of their campaign.

“We made a mistake,” Biden said. “It took too long to get it right.”

Within the first 100 days of his presidency, he said he would send Congress a comprehensive immigration reform plan, including a “pathway to citizenship” for the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S., Biden said.

Attacking Obama’s immigration policies, Trump said: “Catch and release is a disaster. A murderer would come in, a rapist would come in, a very bad person would come in … We have to release them into our country.”

At Thursday’s debate, Trump repeatedly claimed that only a small percentage of the immigrants released under the Obama administration ever attend their court hearing. In fact, more than 80% of immigrants attend their court hearings, according to a 2019 report by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse Universityin New York, which tracks immigration statistics.

Asked by Welker to respond to Trump’s claims, Biden said: “It’s simply not true.”

Trump also denied that migrant children were arriving in the United States with family members. 

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Rick Jervis