President Donald Trump made a series of false statements in an interview that aired Thursday on Spanish-language network Telemundo.
Most notably, Trump repeatedly claimed that he had “inherited” an Obama-era policy of separating migrant children from their parents. In fact, he instituted the policy.
Trump said former president Barack Obama had left him a family separation policy.
“When I became president, President Obama had a separation policy,” Trump said. “I didn’t have it. He had it. I brought the families together. I’m the one that put ‘em together.”
Interviewer José Díaz-Balart challenged Trump on the assertion, pointing out that thousands of children were reunited with their parents in the last year after his administration’s zero-tolerance policy had separated them. But Trump pushed back, wrongly insisting that he “inherited separation, and I changed the plan, and I brought people together.”
Facts First: Trump did not inherit an Obama policy of routinely separating migrant children from their parents. Separations were rare under Obama. Trump made them standard.
In March 2017, John Kelly, then the secretary of Homeland Security, told CNN that he was thinking about implementing a separation program “to deter more movement along this terribly dangerous network.” In April 2018, Jeff Sessions, then the attorney general, announced a new “zero tolerance” policy in which everybody caught crossing the border illegally would be criminally prosecuted – a change he explicitly noted would result in regular separations.
“If you’re smuggling a child, we’re going to prosecute you, and that child will be separated from you, probably, as required by law. If you don’t want your child to be separated, then don’t bring them across the border illegally,” Sessions said.
Separations did sometimes occur under Obama, but they were non-routine and much less frequent, according to immigration experts and former Obama officials. They occurred in exceptional cases, such as those where the parent was being criminally prosecuted for carrying drugs across the border or other serious crimes aside from simple illegal crossing, those where human trafficking was suspected, and those where the authorities could not confirm the connection between the child and the adult.
It is technically true that Trump is the one who ended the separation policy: in June 2018, he signed an executive order to detain families together. But he was ending his own policy, not Obama’s, and he only signed the order after a furious public outcry.
Poll numbers with Hispanics
Trump claimed he had seen a significant increase in his popularity with Hispanics – a 17-point spike that had brought him to 50 percent approval.
Trump: “And you know my poll numbers with Hispanics went up 17 points?” Díaz-Balart: “Well…” Trump: “Okay, explain that. I’ve been tough…” Díaz-Balart: “You’ve been tough, but…” Trump: “…and yet my poll numbers with Hispanics have gone way up.”
Trump: “Well, right now I’m at 50 percent…for a Republican, I’m at 50 percent. I went up 17 points. You know why? The Hispanics…” Díaz-Balart: “I have not seen any poll that says…” Trump: “Well, we’ll show it to you.” Díaz-Balart : “With all due respect, that you have…” Trump: “We’ll show it to you.” Díaz-Balart: “50 percent of the Latino support…” Trump: “No, no. We’ll show it to you. But let me tell you. We went up 17 points. You saw that. I went up 17 points because I’m tough at the border. Because the Hispanics want toughness at the border. They don’t want people coming and taking their jobs. They don’t want criminals to come because they understand the border better than anybody.”
Facts First: Trump does not have a 50 percent approval rating among Hispanics, according to the latest public polling.
There was one January poll, by Marist/NPR/PBS, that showed that his approval rating with Latinos had indeed increased to 50 percent. Trump immediately began touting this poll upon its release, and it might have been what he was referring to in the Telemundo interview five months later.
But polls conducted after January, including polls from the same pollster, has not shown an approval rating even close to 50 percent.
In the Marist/NPR/PBS poll in June, Trump’s approval among Latinos was just 24 percent. In a June Politico/Morning Consult poll, he had a 26 percent approval rating among Hispanics. An April poll by Latino Decisions for the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO), which surveyed 606 registered Latino voters, found that Trump had a 25 percent favorability rating.
Matt Barreto, co-founder of Latino Decisions and a political science professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, said the recent data suggests “Trump has NOT made any inroads with Latinos.”
The director of the Marist poll, Barbara Carvalho, pointed out that the January survey included a mere 153 Latinos, too few to draw conclusions about this group in particular.
“Those previous numbers cited were not of a full survey of Latinos but the result from the smaller subgroup that make up a survey of Americans. The margin of error was wide and the results should not be taken to conclude what would have been found among this very diverse group had we done a larger study of only Hispanic and Latino Americans,” Carvalho told CNN on Friday.
Trump also claimed that Hispanics were losing wealth under Obama.
“Hispanics today are – have the average net wealth – the wealthiest they’ve ever been, under Trump. Not under Obama. ‘Cause under Obama they were going the wrong way.”
Facts First: Hispanic wealth and income were increasing under Obama, not “going the wrong way.”
Between 2013 and 2016, Latino median household wealth rose from $13,700 to $20,600, the Hispanic Wealth Project noted in its 2019 State of Hispanic Wealth report.
Separate Census Bureau data on household income also showed a steady increase for Hispanics in the Obama era. In 2017 dollars, mean income for Hispanics increased from $59,818 in 2009, Obama’s first year, to $68,252 in 2016, his last full year.
The 2017 figure, under Trump, was a record: $68,319. But this was a continuation of the Obama-era trend, and it was an increase of a mere 0.001 percent.
Undocumented immigrants from China
Trump claimed that “many” undocumented immigrants are from China.
Díaz-Balart: “This tweet that you did this week. ‘Next week, ICE will begin the process of removing the millions of illegal aliens who have illicitly found their way into the United States.’” Trump: “Right. And, you know, many of them are from China. Many of them are from other parts of the world that you wouldn’t even believe.”
Facts First: According to a study by the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute, there were approximately 362,000 undocumented immigrants from China in the US 2016, or about 3 percent of the undocumented population of approximately 11 million.
Sixty-seven percent of the undocumented population, or about 7,593,000 people, were from Mexico or Central America. (“Many” is subjective, and we can’t call Trump’s claim false.)
“The great majority of unauthorized immigrants from China are estimated to be visa overstayers,” Julia Gelatt, a senior policy analyst at the institute, told CNN on Friday.
Trump again claimed that he is responsible for the passage of the Veterans Choice health care program.
“No president in two and a half years has ever done what we’ve done in terms of tax cuts, in terms of regulation, in terms of Second Amendment. In terms of so many different things there’s never been anything like it. And that’s okay. You know, what we’ve done with the vets, with Choice, they couldn’t get Choice.”
Facts First: The Veterans Choice program, which allows veterans facing long waits for health care at the VA to go see private doctors and get reimbursed by the government, was passed in 2014 and signed into law by Obama. Trump signed a different 2018 law, the VA MISSION Act, which modified and expanded the Choice program.