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Claim of ‘kids in cages’ hypocrisy is missing context

February 26, 2021 GMT

THE CLAIM: The same people who criticized how immigrant children were treated under the Trump administration and claimed Trump put “kids in cages” are now okay with the Biden administration doing the same thing.

AP’S ASSESSMENT: Missing context. Biden is reopening a surge facility first opened by Trump for teenagers who arrive at the border without their parents. A different facility, run by the Border Patrol, was a major focus of the “kids in cages” criticism in 2018, largely because the Trump administration held children there in cells partitioned with chain-link fencing after separating them from their parents. That family separation policy is no longer in effect.


THE FACTS: On Monday, the Biden administration reopened a surge facility to house up to 700 immigrant teenagers who crossed the U.S.-Mexico border without their parents. The Trump administration originally opened the facility in 2019 in rural Carrizo Springs, Texas, after converting it from a camp used by oil field workers.

Under federal law, children arriving at the border without parents should be transferred within three days from U.S. Border Patrol custody to long-term facilities run by U.S. Health and Human Services until they can be released to family members or sponsors. When the number of arriving children spiked in the past, both the Obama administration and the Trump administration resorted to opening influx facilities to temporarily house a large number of children before they could transition to long-term facilities.

The Trump administration shuttered the Carrizo Springs facility in late July 2019, less than one month after it opened, and it remained closed through the rest of Trump’s term.

Democratic lawmakers had previously criticized using surge facilities like the one in Carrizo Springs. While they have beds, classrooms and dining areas, they are not subject to the same licensing requirements as other long-term facilities operated by HHS, and are expensive.


At a press briefing on Tuesday, Biden’s press secretary, Jen Psaki, said the administration reopened the facility because it needs a safe place to house immigrant youth given that existing facilities cannot be at full capacity due to COVID-19. A Trump policy to immediately expel border crossers during the pandemic included expelling migrant children. The Biden administration has begun allowing children who cross the border to be processed in the U.S. while they await immigration court hearings.

“To ensure the health and safety of these kids, HHS took steps to open an emergency facility to add capacity, where these children can be provided the care they need while they are safely — before they are safely placed with families and sponsors,” Psaki told reporters.

In response to a reporter’s question, Psaki refuted that the move was equivalent to putting “kids in cages,” a criticism voiced by Biden and other Democrats against the Trump administration for separating children from their parents and holding them in chain-link fenced cells inside border facilities. 

Following the announcement of the reopening, conservative commentators and Republicans swiftly accused the Biden administration of hypocrisy. 

“‘Kids in cages’” are now called migrant facilities aka migrant summer camps SMH,” reads one Facebook post.

“THEY AREN’T CALLED ’KIDS IN CAGES ANYMORE...THEY’RE CALLED MIGRANT CHILDREN IN OVERFLOW FACILITIES...BECAUSE ONE OF THE GUYS THAT BUILT THE CAGES IS *PRESIDENT NOW,” reads another popular post, though in fact, in the case of Carrizo Springs, the facility was opened by Trump.

The posts are missing the context that the controversy over “kids in cages” that emerged during the Trump administration was largely focused on the policy of separating families and then holding children in enclosures partitioned with chain-link fencing. In many cases, authorities failed to keep records to reunite families. 

A Border Patrol center in McAllen, Texas, that used chain-link fencing became the focal point for critics of Trump when his administration housed children there who had just been separated from parents or other relatives at the border. The children slept on mats on the floor with foil sheets, according to Associated Press reporting and government photos.

That facility, a converted warehouse the Obama administration opened in 2014 in response to an influx of unaccompanied children and families, was closed in November for renovations. 

The Trump administration also came under fire in 2019 for allowing hundreds of children to languish in squalid conditions in holding cells inside a Border Patrol station in Clint, Texas, that were designed for 100 adults. The AP reported children had to sleep on the floor, were unable to bathe, and had inadequate food and water. An AP investigation found at the time children were stuck in the Border Patrol station, there were beds available in long-term HHS facilities.

Claims over “kids in cages” have been the subject of misinformation before. In May 2018, some prominent Trump critics shared photos of unaccompanied migrant children held in chain-link fenced enclosures during the Obama administration in 2014 and falsely claimed they showed children separated from parents under Trump. 

The Trump administration separated thousands of families after establishing a “zero tolerance policy” that criminally prosecuted parents who crossed the border with their children. Family separations at the border only happened in previous administrations under limited circumstances, like when the child’s safety appeared to be at risk or when the parent had a serious criminal history.

During Biden’s first week in office, the Justice Department formally rescinded the Trump-era memo behind the “zero tolerance policy.” Biden has created a task force that will address reuniting parents and children who remain separated.

The children being held at the Carrizo Springs facility came to the border unaccompanied by parents.