Part 3 of our series recapping and fact checking the last presidential debate of 2020 explores the leading candidates’ claims and stances on immigration.
President Trump seemed hinged on the idea of the Obama-Biden administration building cages in which to hold illegal immigrants. “They built cages,” Trump said in reference to Obama and Biden. “They used to think I built the cages. But it was determined they built cages in 2014; that was him…We’re trying very hard to [unite the children] but they come here without parents, with coyotes.”
Trump was talking about the 545 children separated from their parents at the US-Mexico border during his first term. Thus far, these children have not been able to be reunited with their parents. He says all immigrants should come here legally, but does not account for refugees seeking asylum. Many of those flooding the US southern border are fleeing dangerous political, social and economic situations in their home countries.
At various times during Trump’s first term, families with undocumented parents and children, or “dreamers,” born under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) act, feared their family being split apart. Trump seemed to be largely insensitive to these concerns, widely labelling immigrants as “murderers,” “rapists,” “gangsters,” and more.
President Trump issued an end to the practice of “catch and release” by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials roughly halfway through his first term. “Catch and release” was the practice of apprehending undocumented immigrants and then releasing them back into American society, issuing them with a court date for a hearing to decide their fates as it pertained to American residence. Trump claimed that he ended “catch and release” because less than 1% of illegal immigrants came back for their court dates. “Less than 1% of the people [caught and released] would come back,” Trump said. “We had to send ICE out. They never come back; they don’t come back. Only those with the lowest IQ would come back. We don’t have to worry about that because I terminated it.”
However, according to FactCheck and several immigration experts, the percentage of those who appear for their hearings is higher than 50%.
There have also been criticisms of ICE’s treatment of immigrants in detention centers, with reports of sexual harassment, other forms of physical abuse, poor sleeping conditions, etc. “They are so well taken care of,” Trump says of detained immigrants and refugees. “They are in facilities that are so clean.”
Characteristic of President Trump, he touted the success of his nearly 400 miles of border wall built. Really, only 30 miles of new wall have been built since Trump took office. The rest of the wall “building” involved fortifying and/or repairing preexisting wall segments. Additionally, contrary to what President Trump initially promised his supporters, Mexico has not footed the $15 billion bill for the border wall. This wall has been criticized as largely ineffective as the illegal drug trade, which the border wall is meant to curtail, occurs primarily through established ports of entry, according to Bloomberg. The wall structures also run through wildlife preserves and could disrupt animals’ cross-border migration habits.
Biden has no choice but to admit that he and President Obama first built cages for migrants, but it is also undeniable that migrants’ situations worsened under President Trump.
“Cages make us a laughing stock,” Biden said. “They’re a violation of human rights.” He admits building them was a mistake.
Biden also said that, as president, he will reaffirm DACA and put all those eligible on a pathway to citizenship. He made the point that deporting those protected under DACA would be to send children to countries they had never seen before; and that as thousands of them are now first responders working on the frontlines of the coronavirus pandemic, the US government owes them.
Biden is also planning to reinstate monetary aid to the Central American countries sending over the most refugees (El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras) to address the root causes of America’s immigration struggle. Biden worked with Obama to secure $750 million in aid for these countries, referred to as the “Northern Triangle,” to fund businesses and food security initiatives. The Trump administration yo-yoed these funds to the Northern Triangle countries, repeatedly administering aid and then taking it away.
Biden also promises on his campaign website to make the asylum process more robust and efficient, as well as direct both public and private humanitarian organizations to attend to the needs of migrants at the border. He also wants to rescind President Trump’s “Muslim ban,” which limited travellers and immigrants from select predominantly Islamic countries.
While some Democrats have been calling for the dismantling of ICE as a whole, Biden plans to keep ICE intact. However, he has promised significant reforms. He says he will increase training for ICE personnel and will encourage independent oversight of the entity.