In the spring of 2018, as debate over the Trump administration’s illegal immigrant detention policy was at a fever pitch, photos of “children in cages” began trending on social media.
The pictures were just kicking around in the denser circles of social media until they were picked up by figures like former Obama speechwriter Jon Favreau, former Los Angeles Democratic Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and — perhaps most infamously — activist grifter Shaun King, all of whom used the images to batter President Donald Trump.
“I saw this photo floating around and didn’t know if it was real,” King tweeted. “It is. Children of immigrants are being held in cages, like dogs, at ICE detention centers, sleeping on the floor. It’s an abomination.”
Yes, well, as The Hill noted, the pictures were from 2014, having originally been published in The Arizona Republic. The great irony of the matter is the pictures ended up shining some light on the immigration practices of the Obama administration; in 2018, where any attempt to effectively enforce immigration law was deemed barbaric, they were a reminder the outrage of the moment had more to do with who was president than what was happening.
On Thursday night, children in cages were again an issue during the final presidential debate.
The fact-checked exchange began with the president pointing out that the Obama administration “built cages” for illegal immigrants who were caught.
“They used to say I built the cages, and then they had a picture in a certain newspaper, and it was the picture of these horrible cages and they said, ‘Look at these cages. President Trump built them.’ And then it was determined they were built in 2014. That was him. They built cages,” Trump said.
Biden, meanwhile, said it was the Trump administration that “separated [families] at the border to make it a disincentive to come to begin with. ‘Be real tough. We’re really strong.'”
Trump responded by saying: “They did it. We changed the policy. They did it. We changed.”
“We did not separate the–” Biden said.
“They built the cages. Who built the cages, Joe?” Trump asked.
“Let’s talk about what we’re talking about,” Biden responded.
“Who built the cages, Joe?” Trump asked again.
And again: “Let’s talk about what we’re talking about.”
CBS News, vigilant as always, had a running fact check of various contentious items during the debate. It went how you might have expected, particularly given how indulgent the outlet was to Biden. (“Biden claims raising minimum wage doesn’t hurt hiring … Fact check: Inconclusive.” “Trump claims Biden called China travel ban response to COVID ‘xenophobic’ … Fact check: Inconclusive.”)
Of particular interest, however, was how CBS scored this exchange.
“Claim: Biden says ‘we did not separate’ children from their families, and he says the Trump administration did. Fact check: True,” CBS News reported.
“Claim: Trump accuses the Obama administration of building cages at the border. Fact check: Misleading.”
However, on the first count, CBS News openly admitted the Obama administration separated children from their families and left out pertinent information about why the Trump administration separated children from their families.
As for Trump, CBS said that he “appeared to reprise his false accusation that the Obama administration had a family separation policy” and that “[i]t was the Trump administration that implemented a border-wide, systematic policy to split up migrant families.”
While the Trump administration separated families under its “zero-tolerance policy” regarding illegal immigration, CBS News said that “[t]he Obama administration only separated migrant children from families under certain limited circumstances, such as when the child’s safety appeared at risk or when the parent had a serious criminal history, according to the Associated Press.”
Nowhere in this “fact check” is the Flores settlement mentioned.
As part of a 1997 settlement to a 1985 lawsuit, the Clinton administration agreed that children must be released “without unnecessary delay” to the child’s family or, barring that, held in the “least restrictive” setting possible. A federal judge eventually interpreted the settlement as meaning that no minor could be kept in a detention facility for more than 20 days.
Enforcing the law and keeping individuals in detention until their case is adjudicated, unfortunately, means releasing children brought over the border to a less-restrictive setting, away from their parents or guardians, after 20 days. Congress has declined to end this arrangement.
“In other words, now all minors in detention, whether or not they were with their parents, couldn’t be detained for more than three weeks. [The 2015] ruling laid the groundwork for the current crisis at the border, in which children are released while their parents can still be detained awaiting hearings — hence, the ‘separation’ of families. The alternative is simply releasing the entire family after three weeks or less. In other words, ‘catch-and-release,'” according to the Center for Immigration Studies.
CBS News reported that “Biden correctly noted that [Trump’s family separation] policy was implemented to deter unauthorized U.S.-bound migration. This did not happen during Mr. Obama’s tenure.”
CBS could have just as easily said the Obama administration utilized policies that incentivized migrants to bring minors on dangerous border crossings because it would increase their chances of being released if were they caught. Good luck ever seeing that one.
While the Obama administration may have been proponents of catch-and-release, they also had a child separation policy, as CBS even acknowledged.
Thus, Biden’s claim is false. But it sounds true, right? So CBS News decided to go with that. Meanwhile, the “border-wide, systematic policy to split up migrant families” under the Trump administration was actually just the Flores settlement, but CBS would prefer you think it’s something the Trump administration cooked up just for the sake of being cruel.
As for that “misleading” claim that the Obama administration had been “building cages at the border”:
“Photographs taken in 2014 surfaced on social media of facilities in McAllen, Texas, and Nogales, Arizona, of immigrants behind a chain-link fence in a warehouse converted to a detention facility during a spike in incidences of unaccompanied minors crossing the border,” CBS News explained. “The McAllen facility had been converted to house immigrant children, according to local reports.
“The Obama administration detained migrant families and unaccompanied minors in these temporary Border Patrol stations after apprehending them and before transferring families to ICE detention centers and the unaccompanied kids to the U.S. refugee agency,” the outlet continued.
“This has been the practice at the border during both Republican and Democratic administrations. The Obama administration did dramatically expand family immigration detention in 2014 and 2015 — when it faced a surge in border crossings — and was sued over the length of detention children endured.”
The misleading part of the president’s statement seems to be that it was an utterance of Donald J. Trump.
Fact check: True.
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