President Trump lashed out at Democratic presidential nominee Joseph R. Biden about the southern border on Thursday, demanding to know “who built the cages” that housed illegal immigrant children during the Obama administration.
Mr. Biden, meanwhile, criticized his former boss, President Barack Obama, saying he “made a mistake” in taking too long to tackle immigration.
He said he wouldn’t make the same mistake.
“I’ll be president of the United States, not vice president,” Mr. Biden said.
The clash happened at the second and final presidential debate — the first time immigration has come up in any of the affairs.
Moderator Kristen Welker of NBC News asked Mr. Trump about hundreds of illegal immigrant children who remain separated from their parents years after they jumped the border.
“It makes us a laughing stock,” Mr. Biden said.
He accused Mr. Trump of cruelty, and defended what’s known as catch-and-release of illegal immigrant families.
“Catch-and-release, you know what he’s talking about there? If in fact you had a family, they came across, they were arrested, they in fact were given a date to show up for their heating, they were released, and guess what, they showed up for their hearing,” he said.
In fact, Homeland Security says, that did not always happen. During the 2019 surge, Homeland Security and the Justice Department conducted a 10-city pilot program to speed up cases for families who jumped the border. Only about 15% of families showed up for their deportation hearings, according to testimony given to Congress in July 2019.
“When you say they come back, they don’t come back, Joe,” Mr. Trump said. “Only the really, I hate to say this, but those with the lowest IQ, they might come back.”
He suggested only 1% showed up — a number that is not backed up by the data.
Some experts question the Homeland Security data, including the National Association of Immigration Judges, which says from the judges’ experience most illegal immigrants do show up for hearings.
Mr. Biden may have been referring to a now-defunct Family Case Management Program, a short-lived pilot program instituted under the Obama administration. It did have success in getting people to show for an initial hearing, but it was too short-lived to say whether it would have been successful in getting them to show for eventual deportations.
Mr. Obama still holds the record for most formal deportations in any year, with more than 400,000 in 2012. The Trump administration was averaging roughly half that number.
Mr. Biden said he would not repeat Mr. Obama’s errors.
Asked what he would do if elected, Mr. Biden promised to renew the DACA program and put illegal immigrant “Dreamers” on a path to citizenship.
“We owe them,” he said.
Mr. Trump said Mr. Biden had eight years in office to do all that and “he did nothing, except build cages to keep children in.”
Those chain-link pens were constructed during the Obama administration to handle a surge of illegal immigrants from Central America.
They were still in use in 2018 and 2019, when the Trump administration saw a new surge.
But Mr. Trump said the press wrongly blamed him for them.
“Who built the cages, Joe?” he said.