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“It’s Criminal”: Biden Slams Trump as Gov’t Can’t Find Parents of 545 Children Separated at Border

StoryOctober 23, 2020
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During the second and final presidential debate in Nashville, Tennessee, moderator Kristen Welker asked Trump and Biden about immigration and family separation. Trump deflected questions during the debate, repeatedly stating that the Obama-Biden administration “built the cages” and falsely claiming that kids seeking asylum in the U.S. are “well taken care of.” However, the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy “took children away from their families at the border,” says Erika Andiola, advocacy chief at RAICES Action, the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services. “He’s not owning up to that.”

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The Quarantine Report. I’m Amy Goodman, as we spend the hour looking at the final presidential debate, after President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden faced off in Nashville, Tennessee, Thursday night. Moderator Kristen Welker was the first of the moderators in this presidential debate season to ask about immigration.

KRISTEN WELKER: The United States can’t locate the parents of more than 500 children. So, how will these families ever be reunited?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Their children are brought here by coyotes and lots of bad people, cartels, and they’re brought here, and they used to use them to get into our country. We now have as strong a border as we’ve ever had. We’re over 400 miles of brand-new wall. You see the numbers. And we let people in, but they have to come in legally. And they come in through —

KRISTEN WELKER: But how will you reunite these kids with their families, Mr. President?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: But let me just tell you. Let me just tell you. They built cages. You know, they used to say I built the cages. And then they had a picture in a certain newspaper, and it was a 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.

KRISTEN WELKER: Do you have a plan to reunite the kids with their families?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Yes, we’re working on it very — we’re trying very hard. But a lot of these kids come out without the parents. They come over through cartels and through coyotes and through gangs.

KRISTEN WELKER: Vice President Biden, let me bring you into this conversation.

JOE BIDEN: Those 525 —

KRISTEN WELKER: Quick response, and then another question to you.

JOE BIDEN: These 500-plus kids came with parents. They separated them at the border to make it a disincentive to come to begin with. “Be real tough. We’re really strong.” And guess what. They cannot — it’s not coyotes, didn’t bring them over. Their parents were with them. They got separated from their parents. And it makes us a laughingstock and violates every notion of who we are as a nation.

KRISTEN WELKER: Let me ask you a follow-up question.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Kristen, they did it. We changed the policy.

KRISTEN WELKER: Your response to that?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: They did it. We changed —

JOE BIDEN: We did not separate the —

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: They built the cages. They — who built the cages, Joe?

JOE BIDEN: Let’s talk about what we’re talking about.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Who built the cages, Joe?

JOE BIDEN: Let’s talk about what we’re talking about. What happened? Parents were ripped — their kids were ripped from their arms and separated. And now they cannot find over 500 of sets of those parents, and those kids are alone, nowhere to go. Nowhere to go. It’s criminal. It’s criminal.

KRISTEN WELKER: Let me ask you about immigration.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Kristen, I will say this.

KRISTEN WELKER: Ten seconds, and then I need to ask a question.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: They went down. We brought reporters, everything. They are so well taken care of.

AMY GOODMAN: We go now to Phoenix, Arizona, to bring Erika Andiola into this conversation. She’s advocacy chief at RAICES Action, the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services, also host of the podcast Homeland Insecurity.

As you listen to this discussion, Erika, these 545 children, this has been raised — the government was forced to admit this as groups like the ACLU and others cannot find the parents of these children who are still in the United States. Explain this situation and what Trump has responded.

ERIKA ANDIOLA: Yes. So, there are still kids here in the United States who have not been able to be reunited with their parents. And we have to remember why that is. And the reason for that is that the majority of these children were not tracked. Their parents were actually not tracked by the U.S. government when they were taken away from their parents and from their family members. And so, what Trump said, and what he claims, that he’s taking care of these children, that he wasn’t the one who was putting them in cages, all these things that he’s saying, they’re really lies.

And also, I want to make sure that we’re not just focused on the cages. What the cages are, really, is they’re these structures that were created by the Border Patrol — which migrants actually call them perreras, which is like dog kennels, right? — that are used to hold immigrants or migrants who come, not just the children, but also individuals, adults and families, when they first cross the border. We need to make sure that that doesn’t happen anymore. And yes, that was there under the Obama administration and even before that.

What Trump did was that he literally created a policy called “zero tolerance,” which took children away from their families at the border so that they would send the message — that’s what Trump would say, and his administration — to other migrants so that they wouldn’t come anymore into the United States. And so, “zero tolerance” policy was created by Donald Trump, and he is not owning up to that. He did it, and these children are still trying to figure out how to find their parents, and the United States is not doing enough to be able to make that happen.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go back to debate moderator Kristen Welker of NBC, again, the first to raise in the presidential debates the issue of immigration.

KRISTEN WELKER: Mr. Vice President, the Obama administration did fail to deliver immigration reform, which had been a key promise during the administration. It also presided over record deportations, as well as family detentions at the border, before changing course. So why should voters trust you with an immigration overhaul now?

JOE BIDEN: Because we made a mistake. It took too long to get it right. Took too long to get it right. I’ll be president of the United States, not vice president of the United States. And the fact is, I’ve made it very clear: Within a hundred days, I’m going to send to the United States Congress a pathway to citizenship for over 11 million undocumented people. And all of those so-called DREAMers, those DACA kids, they’re going to be immediately certified again to be able to stay in this country and put on a path to citizenship. …

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: He had eight years to do what he said he was going to do. And I’ve changed.

JOE BIDEN: We did.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Without having a specific, we got rid of “catch and release.” We got rid of a lot of horrible things that they put in and that they lived with. But he had eight years he was vice president. He did nothing, except build cages to keep children in.

KRISTEN WELKER: Vice President Biden, your response?

JOE BIDEN: Wrong. The “catch and release,” you know what he’s talking about there? If, in fact, you had a family come across and they were arrested, they in fact were given a date to show up for their hearing. They were released. And guess what. They showed up for a hearing. And this is the first president in the history of the United States of America that anybody seeking asylum has to do it in another country. That’s never happened before in America.

AMY GOODMAN: Erika Andiola, if you can respond to the Obama-Biden record and also this whole issue of “catch and release”? Trump falsely said only 1% of people show up for immigration hearings. It’s something like 75%.

ERIKA ANDIOLA: That’s correct. There is a lot there. And the first thing I’ll say is that it is something that I found really positive to hear Biden say that they made a mistake. I think they made many mistakes, and let’s just be clear on that. It wasn’t just that they didn’t do immigration reform right away. You know, that needed Congress to pass, and they didn’t push hard enough. But also, in the meantime, they created a deportation system and a detention system that now has been used and even made worse by Donald Trump. And so, I want to make sure that that is said, because we have to fix both mistakes if Biden is elected. We have to make sure that we are, yes, pushing Congress to have a path to citizenship for undocumented people, but also, at the same time, that we are dismantling this deportation and detention machine that was really strengthened by the Obama administration and now terribly used by the Trump administration.

Now, with Trump saying this, you know, with “catch and release,” with everything that he’s now pointing back to the Obama administration, well, he has made all of this even worse. And the fact is that what he’s done right now with asylum seekers is completely inhumane. Now we have literally almost dismantled the entire asylum process for migrants. And so, what you have is people who are stuck now in Mexico waiting because of “Remain in Mexico” policy, or MPP, who are now camping in tents on the other side of the border with their children and now dealing with COVID. They can’t get in. And like you said, the majority of people who are allowed to come, who are allowed to share their story of why they need to be in this country, seeking asylum, and are given the chance to go see a judge, they show up. We know this. Our attorneys represent these migrants and immigrants, and we know that they show up and that we show up to court when we have to do it. We just need to be given the chance. And Trump has completely dismantled that.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to end with an exchange between Trump and Biden on combating climate change.

JOE BIDEN: I have a transition from the oil industry, yes. … It has to be replaced by renewable energy over time. Over time. And I’d stop giving to the oil industry. I’d stop giving them federal subsidies. You won’t get federal subsidies to the gas — excuse me, to solar and wind.


JOE BIDEN: Why are we giving it to the oil industry?



PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: — give it to solar and wind.

KRISTEN WELKER: We have one final question.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: And that’s maybe the biggest statement. …

KRISTEN WELKER: Mr. President?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: He is going to destroy the oil industry. Will you remember that, Texas? Will you remember that, Pennsylvania, Oklahoma?

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to bring Rashad Robinson of Color of Change PAC back into this. Thirty-second response on the issue of climate crisis.

RASHAD ROBINSON: I thought it was a big step for Biden to be so clear. I know his campaign is walking back some aspects of it, but the larger piece, to speak so clearly on the stage about oil. And then you have Donald Trump on the other end, at every turn, not actually, like, issuing a belief about anything, but speaking specifically to states, talking about the strategy. It’s sort of what he does.

I do think that we are seeing the result of a lot of work and effort and activism, of pushing the Democratic Party, of raising the stakes on what we are facing in terms of climate and in terms of what has been allowed by major corporations, to be able to pollute our environment, and particularly to be able to put so much pollution right at the back door of Black and Brown communities.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Erika Andiola, you tweeted last night that you grew up near an ExxonMobil plant. You know what frontline communities are about. Ten seconds.

ERIKA ANDIOLA: We do. And again, as the pandemic right now shows, every time that there’s something happening in the environment, something that is happening outside of our control, people of color, communities of color, Black communities, Native American communities, undocumented people, are the ones who suffer the most. And so we need to make sure that, yes, climate change is at the top of the agenda of the next president. And, you know, we don’t know what Biden is going to do, but at this point we know what Trump has not done and what he has done. So we’ve got to —

AMY GOODMAN: We have to leave it there. Erika Andiola —

ERIKA ANDIOLA: Yeah. Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: — and Rashad Robinson, thanks so much. I’m Amy Goodman. Special thanks to Julie Crosby.

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