Fact-checking Trump's claim on family separation

CNN's Jake Tapper, in partnership with FactCheck.org, looks at President Trump's claim that Democratic legislation has caused immigrant families to be separated.

Posted: Jul 11, 2018 8:38 PM
Updated: Jul 11, 2018 8:52 PM

President Donald Trump's now-reversed "zero-tolerance" policy to prosecute parents who illegally cross the border with their children did not come out of thin air.

The policy, which drew international outcry for its effect of separating thousands of immigrant families, followed months of previous Trump administration efforts to change border policies, including by rolling back a host of protections for immigrant families put in place by courts and Congress.

Though these moves are partly a reflection of this President's far more aggressive stance toward immigration, they also reflect this simple fact: Migration at the southern border today is entirely different than it was five years ago.

Much of Trump's rhetoric on the border harks back a decade, to a time when mostly Mexican individuals were crossing the border illegally in huge numbers looking for work.

But today the situation is far different. Illegal immigration from Mexicans has dropped substantially, and increasingly migrants are fleeing violence and instability in Central America.

The pool of migrants is also increasingly made up of families and of children on their own. Many of them seek asylum when they arrive, believing they may qualify for protections designed for immigrants fleeing persecution in their home countries. They may also know that the court backlog means they'll likely get to live in the US for at least a few years while they pursue their claims.

The laws, however, have not caught up to the new migration patterns.

"So it's a tough dilemma. It was a tough dilemma for the Obama administration and it resulted in a lot of difficulties for them, and it's a tough dilemma for the Trump administration," said Randy Capps, an immigration trends expert with the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute. "It's giving them a lot of trouble right now."

Despite Trump's common claims that the border is in a "crisis" state, illegal crossings are at some of their lowest points in history, steadily declining over the last decade. Last fall, Department of Homeland Security analysts declared the Southwest border "more difficult to illegally cross today than ever before."

But as overall crossings have dropped, the share of crossings by families has steadily increased.

In 2013, 87% of those caught crossing the border illegally were individuals. By 2017, that number had plummeted to 61%. Meanwhile the share of families crossing grew from nearly 4% to nearly 25%, and the share of children traveling alone climbed from 9% to 14%.

The Trump administration has called the laws that protect families and children "loopholes," asking Congress to reverse many of them. Specifically, the administration has sought to reverse a court settlement that children with their families must be released from detention after 20 days.

A federal judge this week strongly rebuffed the administration's attempt to roll back the court settlement, calling it "cynical" and "without merit."

Judge Dolly Gee called the government's argument that an increase in families at the border had come because of the earlier settlement "dubious" and unconvincing," rejecting it.

"Any number of other factors could have caused the increase in illegal border crossings, including civil strife, economic degradation, and fear of death in the migrants' home countries," she wrote.

The administration has also sought the reversal of protections for children in the unanimously passed William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act. In particular, it wants to be able to immediately deport children from Central America, as it is able to do with children from neighboring Mexico. It also has targeted parts of the law that give children longer to pursue asylum claims, and the right to do so in a less adversarial setting than adults.

Those moves are a reflection of the increased share of migrants coming from Central America -- who reflect a different set of motivations than the economically motivated Mexican migrants of decades past.

"Before 2013, it was almost the vast majority Mexican, the vast majority adults and economic migrants," Capps said. "And now this is a mixed flow. It's a mixed flow of countries, it's a mixed flow of demographics because it's not just adult men, and it's a mixed flow of reasons for coming because it's not just economic migrants, it's a lot of people fleeing violence as well."

That has resulted in a sharp uptick in asylum claims in the US, which has bogged down the immigration courts that judge whether an immigrant has the right to stay in the country. The number of immigration judges has barely grown, standing today at roughly 330, while the backlog of cases has swelled to 700,000.

A further reflection of the rise in asylum seekers is the number of people showing up at legal crossings without paperwork to enter the country, rather than sneaking across illegally. Many of those individuals make asylum claims once they are on US soil, and an increasing share of the total number of Southwest border migration is represented by these "inadmissable" immigrants.

The administration has sought to make it harder to qualify for asylum, including by asking for legislation, issuing guidance to interviewers in the field and with the attorney general's recent reinterpretation of asylum law to narrow who qualifies.

The administration's efforts are rooted in the belief that with enough of a crackdown, would-be migrants can be deterred. But Capps said that notion misunderstands the motivations of who is coming to the border today.

"This whole question of deterrence is an interesting question, because you're talking about deterring people from risking their lives on a pretty dangerous journey through Mexico, many of whom felt their lives were threatened in their home countries, or their livelihoods were threatened," Capps said. "Unless you cut off asylum altogether, unless you detain everyone who comes to stay ... it's going to be very hard to cut off these flows, and then you're denying humanitarian rights to people."

"Some people do have valid asylum claims," he added.

He acknowledged that smuggling organizations and Central Americans do study what happens in the US, and smugglers and families already in the US send word back home about what opportunities to sneak into the US might exist. But that doesn't mean they can be convinced to stay home.

"There's just a certain group of people, particularly in Honduras and more so Guatemala, who are going to try to come eventually unless conditions in their home country improve," he said. "It's just a matter of timing."

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 730969

Reported Deaths: 13434
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion1000031743
Lake53771970
Allen40668678
St. Joseph35733552
Hamilton35629408
Elkhart28577442
Tippecanoe22402219
Vanderburgh22310397
Porter18776308
Johnson17970379
Hendricks17244315
Clark12985191
Madison12673339
Vigo12449247
LaPorte11928211
Monroe11893170
Delaware10696186
Howard9924216
Kosciusko9410117
Hancock8284141
Bartholomew8070156
Warrick7784155
Floyd7669178
Grant7060174
Wayne7051199
Boone6700101
Morgan6576139
Dubois6156117
Marshall6050111
Dearborn581378
Cass5808105
Henry5720103
Noble561384
Jackson501773
Shelby491996
Lawrence4546120
Harrison435872
Gibson435492
DeKalb428485
Clinton427453
Montgomery424189
Whitley396139
Huntington391980
Steuben387857
Miami381866
Knox371990
Jasper366047
Putnam360760
Wabash354179
Adams341354
Ripley339770
Jefferson330981
White314354
Daviess297399
Wells291581
Decatur285492
Fayette280762
Greene278985
Posey271533
LaGrange266770
Scott266354
Clay260247
Randolph240781
Washington240732
Spencer232131
Jennings230149
Starke216654
Fountain212346
Sullivan211942
Owen200256
Fulton195440
Jay195130
Carroll189320
Orange183654
Perry183037
Rush173425
Vermillion169143
Franklin168135
Tipton162845
Parke146316
Blackford134932
Pike134334
Pulaski116845
Newton107834
Brown102141
Crawford99814
Benton98614
Martin89115
Warren82115
Switzerland7918
Union71010
Ohio56811
Unassigned0416

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1085733

Reported Deaths: 19441
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin1261201400
Cuyahoga1124072120
Hamilton801491206
Montgomery515591014
Summit47292946
Lucas42275788
Butler38396584
Stark32412907
Lorain25046481
Warren24313300
Mahoning21629588
Lake20725369
Clermont19803238
Delaware18537133
Licking16436212
Fairfield16230200
Trumbull16082468
Medina15309264
Greene15099244
Clark14017299
Wood13113189
Portage12890203
Allen11675232
Richland11382199
Miami10686217
Wayne8843211
Columbiana8816229
Muskingum8815133
Pickaway8582121
Marion8539135
Tuscarawas8487244
Erie7917154
Hancock6929127
Ross6858155
Ashtabula6830170
Geauga6697148
Scioto6417101
Belmont5920167
Union571048
Lawrence5560102
Jefferson5544151
Huron5439119
Darke5364123
Sandusky5359121
Seneca5290121
Athens520058
Washington5160109
Auglaize491984
Mercer480885
Shelby470093
Knox4495110
Madison436661
Putnam4287100
Fulton423969
Ashland423189
Defiance421097
Crawford3978107
Brown395057
Logan382376
Preble379898
Clinton372963
Ottawa367479
Highland355662
Williams340275
Champaign333458
Guernsey316253
Jackson312652
Perry295350
Morrow285639
Fayette282250
Hardin271464
Henry269366
Coshocton265357
Holmes2611101
Van Wert243763
Adams238552
Pike237734
Gallia235949
Wyandot231555
Hocking215462
Carroll191647
Paulding173340
Meigs144940
Noble133337
Monroe132342
Harrison108537
Morgan108523
Vinton83515
Unassigned02
Fort Wayne
Clear
37° wxIcon
Hi: 62° Lo: 36°
Feels Like: 37°
Angola
Clear
34° wxIcon
Hi: 61° Lo: 34°
Feels Like: 34°
Huntington
Partly Cloudy
35° wxIcon
Hi: 61° Lo: 35°
Feels Like: 35°
Decatur
Clear
37° wxIcon
Hi: 62° Lo: 36°
Feels Like: 37°
Van Wert
Partly Cloudy
39° wxIcon
Hi: 62° Lo: 35°
Feels Like: 39°
Frost is likely Tuesday night as lows fall into the low to mid 30s.
WFFT Radar
WFFT Temperatures
WFFT National

Community Events