Debate fact check: Persistent distortions on migrants, economy
Washington – Some of the Democratic presidential contenders dug in their heels with unsupported rhetoric about immigration, the economy and more in the final debate before the stage shrinks.
Several persisted in their distorted depiction of caged migrant children as a singular cruelty of President Donald Trump. Others glossed over the intricacies of complex issues, at times dismissing pointed questions as a “Republican talking point” – and not answering. Trump accurately called them out on their kids-in-cages rhetoric while falsely claiming migrant family separations came from the Obama era and he ended it.
Ten candidates debated in Detroit on Wednesday, as did 10 the night before. After this, it becomes harder to qualify for the debates ahead and some won’t make the cut.
A look at some of their claims, Trump’s counterpunch, and how they compare with the facts:
KAMALA HARRIS, senator from California: “We’ve got a person who has put babies in cages and separated children from their parents.”
MICHAEL BENNET, senator from Colorado, in a message directed at Trump: “Kids belong in classrooms not cages.”
TRUMP tweet: “The cages for kids were built by the Obama Administration in 2014. He had the policy of child separation. I ended it even as I realized that more families would then come to the Border!”
THE FACTS: There’s deception on both sides here.
Family separations as a matter of routine came about because of Trump’s “zero tolerance” enforcement policy. President Barack Obama had no such policy and Trump’s repeated attempts to pin one on him flies in the face of reality. Trump only ended – or suspended – what Trump had started, and that was after a judge ordered that the practice be sharply curtailed and as an international uproar grew.
Moreover, the American Civil Liberties Union now says in a legal challenge that more than 900 children were separated from their parents at the border in the year after the judge’s order.
The Obama administration also separated migrant children from families when a child’s safety appeared at risk with the adults or in other limited circumstances. But the ACLU says children have been removed after the judge’s order for minor transgressions by the adults, like traffic offenses, or for unfounded suspicions of wrongdoing.
Trump is correct in noting that the “cages” – chain-link enclosures inside border facilities where migrants have been temporarily housed, separated by sex and age – were built and used by the Obama administration. The Trump administration has used them, too.
JOE BIDEN, former vice president, on Obama’s approach to people who came to the U.S. illegally as children: “The president came along and he’s the guy that came up with the idea, first time ever, of dealing with the Dreamers. He put that in the law.”
THE FACTS: He’s wrong that Obama achieved a law protecting those young immigrants. He notably failed on that front. Instead he circumvented Congress and used his executive authority to extend temporary protection, letting them stay in the country if they met certain conditions. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, as its name implies, merely defers deportations.
Trump, also with executive action, tried to end the program but the effort has been tied up in courts, so the protection continues for now.
HARRIS: “Autoworkers we expect, perhaps, hundreds of thousands will be out of jobs by the end of the year.”
THE FACTS: This dire prediction is faulty. The auto industry is not facing the imminent risk of such a collapse.
That might have happened – as a worst-case scenario – if Trump had followed through on threats to enact new tariffs and policies that would have hurt the auto industry. But he didn’t.
Harris has been citing the Center for Automotive Research’s 2018 study , which examined hypothetical job losses across all U.S. industries touched by the auto business – not just the nation’s nearly 1 million autoworkers – if Trump introduced certain tariffs and policies.
The study gave a wide range of possible job losses, from 82,000 to 750,000. The findings were later revised in February to a worst-case scenario of 367,000 across all industries by the end of this year. Those hypothetical job losses would be spread across car and parts makers, dealers, restaurants, retail stores and any business that benefits from the auto industry.
Impact on the auto industry was further minimized when the Trump administration lifted tariffs on steels and aluminum products coming from Canada and Mexico.
The industry has added thousands of jobs since a crisis in 2009 that sent General Motors and Chrysler into bankruptcy protection.
After a record sales year of 17.55 million in 2016 demand has fallen to an expected 16.8 million new vehicle sales this year. But the industry is still posting strong numbers and is not heading off a cliff.
BILL DE BLASIO, mayor of New York City, on why he hasn’t fired the police officer who used a chokehold on Eric Garner: “For the first time, we are not waiting on the federal Justice Department which told the city of New York that we could not proceed because the Justice Department was pursuing their prosecution and years went by and a lot of pain accrued.”
THE FACTS: This is false. The Justice Department did not stop the city from moving forward on the matter. The New York Police Department decided to delay disciplinary proceedings for Officer Daniel Pantaleo on its own accord.
While local officials sometimes defer their investigation as federal prosecutors conduct criminal probes, there was no requirement for the police department to wait for the federal civil rights investigation in weighing a decision about whether to fire Pantaleo.
The Justice Department announced this month that it would not bring any charges in connection with Garner’s death. Pantaleo faced an internal departmental trial and a departmental judge hasn’t officially rendered a recommendation yet on whether he should be fired or disciplined.
The police commissioner, who reports to de Blasio, could act at any time to fire Pantaleo.
CORY BOOKER, senator from New Jersey, on decriminalizing illegal entry at the border: “Doing it through the civil courts means you won’t need these awful detention centers that I’ve been to.”
THE FACTS: Not exactly. It’s true that there could be reduced immigration detention at the border if there were no criminal charge for illegal entry. But border officers would still need to process people coming over the border and that could lead to temporary holding, such as the so-called cages that Democrats call inhumane.
Also, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement uses detention to hold people awaiting deportation who have been accused or convicted of more serious crimes, including those who have green cards or other legal status.
For example, in December 2018, ICE detained 47,486 people, according to an analysis at Syracuse University. Of those, 29,753 had no conviction, and those people probably would not be in detention if illegal entry were a civil issue.
But 6,186 had serious crime convictions, 2,237 had other convictions and 9,310 had minor violations and those people could still be held, according to the analysis.
HARRIS: “Right now in America, we have seniors who every day - millions of seniors - are going into the Medicare system.”
THE FACTS: It’s more like 10,000 people a day who turn 65 and become eligible for Medicare, which offers coverage for hospitalization, doctor visits, prescription drugs and other services.
Medicare covers more than 60 million people, including disabled people of any age.
JOE BIDEN: “We should put some of these insurance executives who totally oppose my plan in jail for the 9 billion opioids they sell out there.”
THE FACTS: Biden must have meant drug company executives, since insurance companies pay for medications – they don’t sell them.
Associated Press writers Colleen Long, Michael Balsamo and Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar in Washington and Amanda Seitz in Chicago contributed to this report.