Political News

Fact-checking Trump on immigration, family separations

Posted June 19, 2018 12:22 p.m. EDT

— President Donald Trump on Tuesday delivered a stream-of-consciousness-style speech on immigration as furor over his administration's separation of families at the border reaches a fever pitch.

But his speech at a small business event in Washington contained several factual inaccuracies.

Here is what Trump said, and what the reality is.

False claim: Family separations are Democrats' fault

Trump said the family separations at the border are "a result of Democrat-supported loopholes in our federal laws" that he said could be easily changed.

"These are crippling loopholes that cause family separation, which we don't want," Trump said.

The reality: Trump's administration made a decision to prosecute 100% of adults caught crossing the border illegally even if they came with children, and thus are separating parents from their kids at the border with no clear plan to reunite them after the parents return from jail and court proceedings.

The administration has long wanted to roll back a law unanimously passed under President George W. Bush and a court settlement dating back decades but most recently affirmed under the Obama administration -- citing those two provisions as "loopholes." Both were designed to protect immigrant children from dangers like human trafficking and to provide minimum standards for their care, including turning them over to the Department of Health and Human Services for resettlement within three days of arrest, as opposed to being held in lengthy detention, and dictating that children with their families also cannot be held in detention or jail-like conditions longer than three weeks.

The administration has complained the laws make it harder to immediately deport or reject immigrants at the border, and that they are not able to detain families indefinitely.

False claim: Thousands of judges

Trump said his administration was hiring "thousands and thousands" of immigration judges, that the US already has "thousands" of immigration judges and that other countries don't have immigration judges.

In reality, there are currently just over 300 immigration judges with more planned to be hired. In May, the director of the Justice Department's immigration courts division said there are 60 immigration courts nationwide with 334 judges, with hopes to bring in 40 to 50 more this fiscal year.

Because of a massive backlog in the immigration courts, it can take years for those cases to work their way to completion, and many immigrants are allowed to work and live in the US in the meantime, putting down roots. The funding for immigration courts and judges has increased only modestly over the years as funding and resources for enforcement have increased dramatically. A proposal from Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, to address the family separation issue would double the number of judges to 750.

Trump's comments Tuesday echoed remarks he made last month. In a May Fox News interview, he claimed the United States was "essentially the only country that has judges" to handle immigration cases. But that is incorrect.

A number of other countries have immigration court systems or a part of the judiciary reserved for immigration and asylum cases, including Sweden, the United Kingdom and Canada.