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Bogus Warren Quote Ignites Immigration Anger

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Immigration comments by Sen. Elizabeth Warren have been selectively edited in a misleading way and are circulating widely online.

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A meme that misleadingly rephrased the words of Sen. Elizabeth Warren — one of 17 candidates seeking the Democratic nomination for president — has been stoking outrage online over immigration laws. One meme featuring the bogus quote has been shared more than 100,000 times and has gathered 1,800 comments since it was posted on Facebook on Oct. 20.

The meme includes two pictures of Mollie Tibbetts, a University of Iowa student who was killed in the summer of 2018 and became the subject of national attention when a Mexican immigrant was charged with her murder. Although her family asked that she be left out of the immigration debate, that request hasn’t been honored by some social media users.

The text of the meme says: “So Elizabeth Warren was asked about Mollie Tibbetts being murdered by an illegal immigrant….. Her reply was: ‘I know this is hard for her family, but they have to remember that we need to focus on real problems like illegal immigrants not being able to see their kids'”

The quote appears to be based loosely on something Warren said in August 2018, but it is selectively edited, reworded and used out of context to distort Warren’s position.

Some context about what was happening at the time is helpful in understanding Warren’s remark: Earlier that year, the Trump administration had instituted a “zero-tolerance” immigration policy that resulted in children being separated from their parents who were detained at the border for entering the U.S. illegally. By June, the impact of that policy had erupted into one of the biggest news stories of the year, and President Donald Trump reversed course with an executive order calling for families to be kept together in custody. Coverage of the fallout from that policy continued over the summer.

Then Tibbetts’ body was found on Aug. 21, 2018. The next day, Warren was a guest on CNN’s “New Day.” According to a transcript of the show, this is the exchange she had with host John Berman:

Berman, CNN’s “New Day,” Aug. 22, 2018: I want to get one last question in here —

Warren: Sure.

Berman: — because it’s a very important story in the news. It has to do with Mollie Tibbetts, the young woman in Iowa who was murdered. Her body believed to be found yesterday. A person has been charged with it. This person is an undocumented immigrant.

Mike Pence and the president have suggested the immigration laws need to be stronger so that people like this man who was accused of this murder were not in the country. Your reaction?

Warren: You know, my — I’m so sorry for the family and I know this is hard not only for the people in her community, the people throughout Iowa.

But one of the things we have to remember is we need an immigration system that is effective, that focuses on where real problems are.

Last month, I went down to the border and I saw where children had been taken away from their mothers, I met with their mothers who had been lied to, who didn’t know where their children were, who hadn’t had a chance to talk to their children, and there was no plan for how they would be reunified with their children.

I think we need immigration laws that focus on people who pose a real threat and I don’t think mamas and babies are the place we should be spending our resources. Separating a mama from a baby does not make this country safer.

A clip from that part of the show has also been posted to YouTube by the Republican National Committee on its “GOP War Room” channel, where the video continues to generate comments like, “The Tibet’s family is separated from their baby you hypocritical bitch.”

Some viewers appear to have overlooked the part where Warren said, “I think we need immigration laws that focus on people who pose a real threat,” whom she said were not the “mamas and babies” being separated at the border. Warren did not say that violence by people in the U.S. illegally was not a “real problem,” as the false quote suggests.

Editor’s note: FactCheck.org is one of several organizations working with Facebook to debunk misinformation shared on social media. Our previous stories can be found here.


Mollie Tibbetts update: Full press briefing.” Des Moines Register. 21 Aug 2018.

Tibbetts, Rob. “From Mollie Tibbetts’ father: Don’t distort her death to advance racist views.” Des Moines Register. 1 Sep 2018.

New Day transcript. CNN. 22 Aug 2018.

GOP War Room YouTube channel. “Asked About Mollie Tibbetts, Elizabeth Warren Laments The Treatment Of Illegal Immigrants.” YouTube. 22 Aug 2018.