WASHINGTON (AP) — Since the government acknowledged last month that the Trump administration had lost track of nearly 1,500 immigrant children, the debate over what that means and who is to blame has roiled Twitter. A look at the partisan claims and a reality check behind the latest immigration fight:
THE 2014 PHOTOS
—“Speechless. This is not who we are as a nation.” — Democrat Antonio Villaraigosa, former Los Angeles mayor now running for governor, referring in a tweet Sunday to photos showing young-looking immigrants in steel cages.
—“This is happening right now, and the only debate that matters is how we force our government to get these kids back to their families as fast as humanly possible.” — Jon Favreau, who was speechwriter for President Barack Obama, referring Sunday to the same photos.
THE FACTS: The photos, taken by The Associated Press, were from 2014, during the Obama administration, but were presented by liberal activists as if they showed the effects of Trump’s immigration policy now. Villaraigosa, Favreau and some others deleted their tweets when the mistake was pointed out.
They had linked to a June 2014 online story by The Arizona Republic titled “First peek: Immigrant children flood detention center.” The story featured photos taken by AP’s Ross D. Franklin at a center run by the Customs and Border Protection Agency in Nogales, Arizona. One photo shows two unidentified female detainees sleeping in a holding cell. The caption refers to U.S. efforts to process 47,000 unaccompanied children at the Nogales center and another one in Brownsville, Texas.
Many tweets used the hashtag “WhereAreOurChildren,” which grew out of testimony in April by a federal official that the U.S. government had lost track of nearly 1,500 unaccompanied minor children it placed with adult sponsors in the U.S.
Trump tweeted: “Democrats mistakenly tweet 2014 pictures from Obama’s term showing children from the Border in steel cages. They thought it was recent pictures in order to make us look bad, but backfires.”
He is right about the misrepresentation, though it’s not clear that many prominent Democrats jumped on this particular Twitter bandwagon.
THE ‘LOST’ CHILDREN
—“1500 innocent children ripped from their mothers’ arms at our border. Lost in Trump’s “system”. Give us your tired, your poor, your huddle masses yearning to breathe free — and we will torture them for wanting a better life. From Shining City to Evil Empire in under 500 days.” — tweet Sunday by actor Jim Carrey.
—“What is more shameful than forcibly separating, in America, parents from infant children at the border? And then, losing track of those children?” — tweet Friday by Preet Bharara, fired by Trump as U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York.
THE FACTS: The nearly 1,500 children in question arrived at the border without their parents and were not forced from them by U.S. authorities. Critics are conflating those children with others, who came to the border with their parents, only to be separated there.
To call the children lost, as many have, is misleading. It’s more accurate to say the government lost track of them, as Bharara put it.
An official from the Health and Human Services Department told a congressional hearing last month that his department placed follow-up phone calls from October to December to U.S. households that were sponsoring the minors after they came to the border without their parents. They reached 86 percent of the children or sponsors, determining 6,075 remained with their sponsors, 28 had run away, five had been removed from the U.S. and 52 relocated to live with someone else.
The department could not verify the whereabouts of 1,475. In some of many cases, sponsors simply didn’t respond to the follow-up phone call, not surprising because many are in the U.S. illegally and reluctant to speak to authorities. HHS decided 792 of those cases merited more attention and referred them to the National Call Center.
It’s not highly unusual to fail to keep track of many minors who came unaccompanied to the border.
During the last year of the Obama administration, HHS was able to locate 85 percent of the minors or their sponsors, according to an inspector general’s report. The Trump administration slightly exceeded that success rate in the last three months of 2017, even as it is accused of losing children.
—TRUMP: “Put pressure on the Democrats to end the horrible law that separates children from there parents once they cross the Border into the U.S.” — tweet Saturday.
THE FACTS: No law mandates that parents must be separated from their children at the border, and it’s not a policy Democrats have pushed or can change alone as the minority in Congress. The policy comes from Trump’s own administration, which has decided to enforce criminal charges against people crossing the border illegally with few or no previous offenses. Under U.S. protocol, if parents are jailed, their children would be separated from them.
Discussing the zero-tolerance policy recently, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said: “If we do our duty and prosecute those cases, then children inevitably for a period of time might be in different conditions.”
A Customs and Border Protection official told lawmakers last week that 658 children had been separated from their parents at the border from May 6 to May 19, after border agents began referring every illegal entry to criminal prosecutors. This is in addition to hundreds more who were estimated to have been removed from their parents at the border since October.
A 2008 law, passed unanimously by Congress and signed into law by President George W. Bush, says children traveling alone from countries other than Mexico or Canada must be released in the “least restrictive setting” — often to family or a government-run shelter — while their cases slowly wind through immigration court. The law came amid concerns about border control officials and their treatment of children.