President Donald Trump said migrant children separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border were “so well taken care of” during the Thursday night presidential debate against former Vice President Joe Biden.
Asked about the practice of family separations by debate moderator Kristen Welker, Trump said, “They went down, brought reporters and everything. [The children] are so well taken care of. They’re in facilities that were so clean.”
Though Trump instituted the policy that directed border security agents to break up families, he attacked Biden for building the cages that held young children.
“They built cages. They used to say I built the cages...Kristen, they did it. We changed the policy,” Trump said. “He had eight years he was vice president. He did nothing except build cages to keep children in.”
Biden responded, “Their parents were with them. They got separated from their parents. And it makes us a laughing stock and violates every notion of who we are as a nation.”
Photographs from detention centers have shown children in chicken wire cages, and some have suffered infectious disease outbreaks.
Immigration lawyers say they have been unable to locate the parents of 545 children who were separated in 2017 under a pilot version of the Trump administration’s “Zero Tolerance” immigration policy. Trump ended the policy by executive order in 2019, and a federal judge ordered children reunited with their parents the same year.
Trump went on during the debate to bizarrely mock immigrants who show up for their asylum court hearings, which he said amounted to only 1 percent of immigrants. Data from the Justice Department recorded in 2019 showed that 44 percent of immigrants appear for their court dates.
“Catch and release is a disaster...Less than 1 percent of the people come back...We say, ‘We're going to give you a court case.’ You need Perry Mason. When you say they come back, they don’t come back, Joe. They never come back. Only the really — I hate to say this — but those with the lowest IQ, they might come back,” he said.
Asked why the Obama administration failed to deliver substantive immigration reform, Biden expressed regret and asserted he would release an immigration plan within the first 100 days of his presidency.
He said, “We made a mistake. It took too long to get it right.”