In remarks in the White House Rose Garden on July 14, President Donald Trump falsely described many of the immigration recommendations drafted by allies of presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and his vanquished rival Sen. Bernie Sanders.
The proposals were contained in a 110-page document called the Biden-Sanders Unity Task Force Recommendations released July 8. They are just that — recommendations. Trump refers to the document as Biden’s “unity platform,” but the Democratic Party has not released its platform for the fall campaign.
“The Biden-Sanders agenda is — agenda is the most extreme platform of any major party nominee, by far, in American history,” Trump said. “I think it’s worse than, actually, Bernie’s platform; it’s gone so far right. And he’s doing that because he’s begging for their vote.”
Among the things the president got wrong or distorted:
- Trump falsely said the task force wanted to end the practice of detaining immigrants who enter the country illegally. The task force recommends closing for-profit detention centers, and Biden has called for ending “prolonged detention,” not all detentions.
- He falsely said it would grant asylum to “all new illegal aliens.” The task force said it would “end Trump Administration policies that deny protected entry to asylum seekers,” and “expand the existing asylum system.” It doesn’t say for everyone.
- Trump falsely said it wanted an end to prosecutions of those who cross the border illegally. It calls for scrapping the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy and focusing on prosecuting “human traffickers, smugglers” and other serious criminals.
- He said “they want to take down the wall” that his administration is building along the U.S.-Mexico border. Biden has said he would end funding for the project, but hasn’t said he would tear down what has been built.
- He misleadingly said Biden wants “federal student aid,” “free community college,” “welfare” and “government health care for illegal aliens.” Biden has called for providing financial assistance to so-called Dreamers — those who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children by their parents.
- Biden has called for a 100-day halt to deportations and deporting only felons after that, but Trump distorts that position by claiming Biden would “stop all deportations.”
- Trump claimed, without evidence, that the “wall has stopped” human trafficking “so much” and that Biden wanted to “let that continue.”
Trump falsely said the Biden-Sanders task force calls for abolishing the practice of detaining those who come into the country illegally.
Trump: Abolish immigration detention. No more detention. You come in here illegally, no more detention.
The task force recommendations say that detention should be used as a “last resort, not the default.”
The Biden-Sanders Unity Task Force Recommendations: Democrats will prioritize investments in more effective and cost-efficient community-based alternatives to detention. We will end for-profit detention centers and ensure that any facility where migrants are being detained is held to the highest standards of care and guarantees the safety and dignity of families. Detention of children should be restricted to the shortest possible time, with their access to education and proper care ensured.
The immigration plan on Biden’s campaign website says that Biden would end “prolonged detention.” That plan says “proven alternatives to detention and non-profit case management programs, which support migrants as they navigate their legal obligations, are the best way to ensure that they attend all required immigration appointments.”
Biden caused some confusion on this issue during the Democratic primary when he was asked how to improve conditions at migrant detention centers. Biden replied: “Close them down. … By the way, we don’t need them!”
A Biden spokesman later told Fox News that the former vice president had been referring only to “for-profit detention centers.” Biden’s immigration plan calls for an end to for-profit detention centers.
So while Biden would take a far more liberal approach to detention than Trump, he does not favor abolishing it.
Prosecuting Border Crossers
Trump also said falsely that the unity plan would bring the prosecution of people who cross the border illegally to a halt.
Trump: End prosecution of illegal border crossers. Oh, OK, they come in illegally, and we have to stop the whole process.
Trump distorts the task force’s recommendation.
Again, the document calls for greatly reducing the number of prosecutions, not eliminating all of them. It calls for scrapping the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy and focusing on prosecuting “human traffickers, smugglers” and other serious criminals.
The Biden-Sanders Unity Task Force Recommendations: End the Trump Administration’s ‘Zero Tolerance’ immigration enforcement policy by rescinding the Department of Justice (DOJ) memoranda and prioritize the criminal prosecution of human traffickers, smugglers, and others engaged in serious crimes. Ensure respect for the facts and circumstances of individual cases and end indiscriminate prosecutions, including of asylum seekers. End mass prosecutions of individuals who cross the border without regard to the facts and circumstances of their cases.
At a debate on CNN in Detroit during the Democratic primary, Biden made clear that he believes illegally crossing the border is indeed a crime.
Biden, July 31, 2019: In addition to that, we’re in a circumstance where if in fact you say you can just cross the border, what do you say to all those people around the world who in fact want the same thing to come to the United States and make their case, that they don’t — that they have to wait in line. The fact of the matter is, you should be able to — if you cross the border illegally, you should be able to be sent back. It’s a crime. It’s a crime.
There’s no doubt Biden would take a very different approach to prosecuting illegal border crossers than the Trump administration. But that doesn’t mean he would “end” prosecutions.
Asylum for All
Trump also said falsely that the plan would grant asylum to “all new illegal aliens.”
Trump: Expand asylum for all new illegal aliens. How about that one? All new illegal aliens, expand asylum.
Biden certainly favors being much more generous when it comes to asylum. But he doesn’t call for asylum for everyone who crosses the border illegally.
Here is some of what the unity plan says about asylum:
The Biden-Sanders Unity Task Force Recommendations: Democrats believe the United States should be a beacon of hope for those who are suffering violence and injustice, which is why we will protect and expand the existing asylum system and other humanitarian protections. We will reverse Trump Administration policies that prevent victims of gang and domestic violence, as well as LGBTQ+ people who are unsafe in their home countries, from being eligible to apply for asylum. Democrats will end Trump Administration policies that deny protected entry to asylum seekers, put them at great risk, and destabilize our neighbors and the broader region. And we will end prosecution of asylum seekers at the border and policies that force them to apply from “safe third countries,” which are far from safe.
So Biden’s asylum policy would be far more liberal than Trump’s. But that doesn’t mean asylum for “all new illegal aliens.”
Biden has said he would halt deportations of those already in the country for the first 100 days of his presidency, deporting only those who had committed felonies thereafter. But Trump twists that in claiming Biden would “stop all deportations” including the removal of MS-13 gang members.
Trump: Stop all deportation. So if we get a MS-13 gang member, which we’ve taken out of our country by the thousands — brought them back to Honduras, Guatemala — can’t do that anymore — El Salvador. Can’t do that anymore. Stop all deportations. Can’t do that anymore. Stop all deportations. So in other words, we’ll take all of these people — many of whom are in prison for rape, murder, lots of other things.
The Trump campaign points to Biden’s comments in the March 15 Democratic debate, when he said: “[I]n the first 100 days of my administration, no one, no one will be deported at all. From that point on, the only deportations that will take place are commissions of felonies in the United States of America.”
Similarly, the Biden-Sanders task force recommendations call for a 100-day halt to deportations of those in the country while “a full-scale study on current practices” is conducted “to develop recommendations for transforming enforcement policies and practices at” Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection.
Biden’s campaign website says that “the Obama-Biden administration took steps to prioritize enforcement resources on removing threats to national security and public safety, not families” — and that he “will enforce our laws without targeting communities, violating due process, or tearing apart families.”
Human Trafficking Occurs Mainly through Legal Ports
In a continuation of his misleading claims about human trafficking, Trump claimed, without offering any evidence, that the “wall has stopped it so much” and that Biden wanted to “let that continue.” In fact, experts say the vast majority of human trafficking occurs through legal ports of entry.
Trump: [The wall] stops trafficking — human trafficking of women and children, but women, mostly. … You wouldn’t think that’s possible today, but it’s human trafficking of women and children. And they want to let that continue. The wall has stopped it so much because they will go over to a section where there aren’t people — not an entry point — and they’ll make a left into the United States. They’re on their way. They can’t do that anymore.
We looked into similar claims by the president last year. There’s no data on how many are smuggled illegally across the border with Mexico for human trafficking, experts told us. But, they said, legal ports are the typical mode of entry in the bulk of the cases they deal with concerning foreign nationals.
“Yes, in some cases it does happen,” Brandon Bouchard, director of media relations for Polaris, which operates the National Human Trafficking Hotline, told us of people being smuggled across the border. However, “we believe the vast majority of people are coming through legal ports of entry.” And the statistics the group has, which come from the calls it receives through the hotline, show that labor trafficking is the largest trafficking issue for foreign nationals.
“When it’s labor trafficking, people are recruited in their home country under false pretenses,” Bouchard told us. “They think they’re coming into the U.S. for a job.”
In addition, the United Nations’ International Organization on Migration has found that “nearly 80% of international human trafficking journeys cross through official border control points, such as airports and land border control points,” based on 10 years’ worth of cases on which the IOM has assisted.
Evangeline M. Chan, director of the Immigration Law Project at Safe Horizon, a group that assists trafficking survivors in New York City, told us that the type of coercion used is “a lot more subtle” than a kidnapping-type scenario. Typically she sees victims who are “lured into the country with promises of a better life.” They’re “very often brought to the country legally through ports of entry and using visas and legal documents.”
The Trump campaign pointed to a different view. In a newspaper column, Tim Ballard, the head of an anti-trafficking organization called Operation Underground Railroad, said he and federal government officials “agree that the building, expansion and strengthening of the border wall has been one of many effective tools, and will continue to be an effective tool, in the rescuing of trafficked children.”
Ballard had worked as an investigator for the Department of Homeland Security, including, he writes, “a tour combating sex trafficking on the southern border.”
As for Biden’s stance, the Biden-Sanders task force recommendations include some concerning human trafficking, including expanding “the annual visa cap for victims of sexual trafficking, violence against women and children, and other heinous crimes” and “prioritiz[ing] the criminal prosecution of human traffickers, smugglers, and others engaged in serious crimes.”
Stop Building the Wall
Trump said, without evidence, that his political rivals would “take down the wall” on the Mexican border that his administration is building.
Trump: Well, basically, as you know, what they’re going to do is they’re going to rip down the wall. They’re taking it down. They want to take down the wall, which we fought hard for: up to 259 miles right now of great, powerful wall.
It is true that both the Biden position paper and the unity agreement call for getting rid of the “national emergency” designation that allows the use of Defense Department funds for the fencing that the administration is erecting. But neither document says anything about tearing down what has been built.
Biden campaign: Building a wall will do little to deter criminals and cartels seeking to exploit our borders. Instead of stealing resources from schools for military children and recovery efforts in Puerto Rico, Biden will direct federal resources to smart border enforcement efforts, like investments in improving screening infrastructure at our ports of entry, that will actually keep America safer.
Trump: Federal Student Aid and free community college for illegal aliens. What do you think about that? Federal Student Aid and free community college. We’re going to have every person in the world pouring into our country from all over the world.
That’s misleading. Biden hasn’t proposed federal student aid and free community college for everyone who came, or comes, to the U.S. illegally.
Biden’s education plan specifically says he would make so-called Dreamers eligible for federal financial aid if they otherwise meet the requirements. Dreamers are a specific group of individuals who are already in the country and were brought here illegally as children by their parents.
Biden’s plan also says Dreamers would be eligible to “go to community college for up to two years without having to pay tuition,” and it says Biden will provide $18 billion in grants to four-year historically black colleges and universities, tribal colleges and universities, and minority serving institutions. That funding is “equivalent to up to two years of tuition per low-income and middle class student, including DREAMers and students who transfer to a four-year HBCU, TCU, or MSI from a tuition-free community college,” the plan states.
The unity task force similarly recommends ensuring “Dreamers are eligible for federal student aid and included in proposals to access community colleges without debt, including those who transfer to a four-year HBCU, TCU, or MSI from a tuition free community college.”
Government Health Care
Trump: Provide taxpayer subsidies and welfare for illegal aliens and new immigrants. So we want to provide taxpayer subsidies and welfare for people that come into our country illegally — illegal immigrants. They want government health care for all illegal aliens.
Trump’s campaign website claims: “Biden pledged to give free, taxpayer-funded health care to illegal immigrants.” But it links to a December 2019 video of Biden saying, under his plan, they would be able to “buy into the system.”
In the clip, Telemundo’s José Díaz-Balart asks Biden, “Under your plan … would the 11, 12 million undocumented immigrants that live in the United States, that have been here, many of them for generations, would they have access to health insurance?” Biden responds, “Yes. If they can buy into the system like everyone else.” He later says, again, “they will be able to buy in” under the Affordable Care Act, which Díaz-Balart noted is currently not allowed under the health care law.
The task force also “recommends extending Affordable Care Act coverage to DACA recipients, [and] allowing undocumented immigrants to purchase unsubsidized coverage in the ACA marketplaces.”
That’s not the same as providing “government health care for all illegal aliens.”
‘Welfare’ for Immigrants
Trump: Sign new immigrants up for welfare immediately. This is Joe Biden. So they walk off, and they come in, and they put a foot into our land, and we sign up new immigrants up for welfare. We sign them up immediately. They get welfare benefits. United States citizens don’t get what they’re looking to give illegal immigrants.
Biden is not offering blanket “welfare” to immigrants in, or coming to, the U.S. legally or illegally.
The task force proposes “working with Congress to lift the five-year waiting period for low-income lawfully present immigrants for Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program eligibility.”
So it applies to assistance from those federal-state health insurance programs, specifically, and it excludes individuals not in the U.S. lawfully.
Biden also has proposed reversing the Trump administration’s “public charge rule.” It allows the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to deny admission or adjustment of status to immigrants who are “likely at any time to become a public charge” — that is, someone who receives public assistance.
Biden’s plan on “securing our values as a nation of immigrants,” says: “Allowing immigration officials to make an individual’s ability to receive a visa or gain permanent residency contingent on their use of government services such as SNAP benefits or Medicaid, their household income, and other discriminatory criteria undermines America’s character as land of opportunity that is open and welcoming to all, not just the wealthy.”
That still doesn’t amount to immediately signing up immigrants for welfare.
Increase Refugee Admissions
The president correctly said Biden would “increase refugee admissions by 700%,” but that eye-popping figure lacks context. Trump sharply limited the number of refugee admissions, making Biden’s proposed increase appear much larger than it historically would be.
Trump: Increase refugee admissions by 700%. Huh. That’s a lot: by 700%. Nobody has ever heard of such a thing. Increase refugee admissions by 700%.
“A refugee is a person fleeing his or her country because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion,” as the Congressional Research Service explained in a 2018 report on refugees.
Every administration sets a limit on the number of refugee admissions that the U.S. will accept in a fiscal year. In a break from past administrations, the Trump administration reduced that number to just 18,000 in fiscal year 2020, which began on Oct. 1, 2019. That was the lowest amount in Trump’s first term.
Biden says on his campaign website that he will “set the annual global refugee admissions cap to 125,000.” And Trump is right that 125,000 would be a 700% increase from 18,000.
But Biden’s proposed 125,000 cap is 56% higher than President George W. Bush‘s last fiscal year, when the cap was set at 80,000, and 14% higher than President Barack Obama‘s final fiscal year, when he set it at 110,000.
On his website, Biden says his 125,000 figure will restore “refugee admissions in line with our historic practice under both Democratic and Republican Administrations,” but that’s not accurate. Prior to Trump, the annual average over 16 years during Democratic and Republican administrations was 76,313. Biden’s proposed 125,000 cap is 64% higher than the 16-year, pre-Trump average — high, but not quite 700%.
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