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Incumbent Sen. Mark Kirk and Democratic opponent Rep. Tammy Duckworth. Incumbent Sen. Mark Kirk and Democratic opponent Rep. Tammy Duckworth.

Incumbent Sen. Mark Kirk and Democratic opponent Rep. Tammy Duckworth.

Kevin Hoffman
By Kevin Hoffman July 15, 2016

Tammy Duckworth says Mark Kirk called for the 'mass arrest of 18,000 African Americans'

In the hotly contested Illinois U.S. Senate race, Democratic challenger Tammy Duckworth is doing everything she can to link Republican incumbent Mark Kirk to Donald Trump.

Even after Kirk said he would not support Trump on June 7, the Duckworth camp kept at it in this tweet:

That's a packed tweet. Is it true that Kirk called for the mass arrest of 18,000 African-Americans and, second, that Kirk had no objection to Trump’s call for mass deportation of undocumented immigrants? We checked the record.

What Kirk said

Duckworth's deputy campaign manager Matt McGrath said in an email she was referencing a statement Kirk made in May 2013 during an interview with Fox 32 Chicago political editor Mike Flannery.

Kirk told Flannery: "My top priority is to arrest the Gangster Disciple gang, which is 18,000 people. I would like to do a mass pickup of them and put them all in the Thomson Correctional Facility. I will be proposing this to the assembled federal law enforcement: ATF, DEA and FBI."

Kirk made that statement in response to the January 2013 shooting death of 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton, who was struck in the back by a stray bullet during a gang-related shooting on Chicago’s south side.

The Gangster Disciples is an African-American gang from the city's south side and has an estimated 18,000 members, though its membership could be as high as 30,000, according to the Chicago Crime Commission’s press officer John Pastuovic.

The statement drew criticism from the media as well as from Kirk’s colleagues in Congress, including U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill, who called the proposal an "upper middle class elitist white boy solution to a problem he knows nothing about."

But Kirk acknowledged in July 2013 that his plan to arrest every member of the Gangster Disciples was "not actually that practical."

Still, not only does Duckworth's tweet take what Kirk said out of context, it also implies he supported the general mass arrest of 18,000 African-Americans, even though Kirk never mentioned race or used the term "African-Americans" during his interview with Fox 32 Chicago.

What about Kirk on deportation?

Featured Fact-check

And as for Duckworth’s claim that Kirk "was apparently fine with Trump’s call for mass deportation?"

On May 4, Trump appeared on NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt, where he reiterated his plan to deport all 11 million undocumented immigrants if he were to become president.

In a May 6 interview with CNN before Trump’s primary-clinching win in Indiana, Kirk said he would support Trump as the Republican nominee, calling Trump’s candidacy a "net benefit" for his own campaign in Illinois.

Kirk withdrew his support for the presumptive GOP presidential nominee on June 7 after Trump said an American-born federal judge of Mexican ancestry couldn’t preside fairly over civil fraud lawsuits against the defunct Trump University because he has called for a wall to be built along the U.S.-Mexico border.

While Kirk did back Trump knowing his position on illegal immigration, Kirk has made clear in the past he does not support Trump’s controversial immigration policies.

In July 2015, Kirk told reporters at news conference he had a message for Trump: "In a typical Chicago way, to my Mexican-American friends, I would say, 'Donald Trump callate' shut up."

And Kirk’s congressional voting record suggests he would not be "fine" with deporting 11 million immigrants living here illegally.

Eleni Demertzis, the Kirk campaign’s communications director, noted in an email the senator supported and voted for the high-profile comprehensive immigration reform package in June 2013, which first would have secured the border and then created a tough but fair pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, among other things. But that measure never made it to a vote in the House.

In addition to his pro-immigration reform stance, Kirk in October 2015 broke ranks with his party and was the only GOP Senator who voted to preserve federal funding for "sanctuary cities." However, Kirk did vote in favor of increasing penalties from two years to five years for illegal immigrants who re-enter the country illegally after being deported, denied entry or removed for other reasons, voting largely along party lines.

Our ruling

Duckworth tweeted: "Kirk, who called for the mass arrest of 18,000 African Americans, was apparently fine with Trump’s #StillTooRacist call for mass deportation."

While Kirk did call for the mass arrest of the Gangster Disciples, an African-American gang estimated to have 18,000 members, Duckworth’s tweet takes Kirk’s statement out of context and gives the impression he had called for the general mass incarceration of 18,000 African-Americans.

Duckworth also fails to acknowledge Kirk walked back his statement shortly after he made it. More importantly, Kirk did not mention race when he originally called for a "mass pickup" of the Gangster Disciples gang.

As for Kirk being "apparently fine" with mass deportation, his congressional voting record on immigration shows he supports comprehensive reform that would both improve border security and implement a tough, but fair pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants -- not to mention he was the lone Republican senator to vote against legislation that would have withheld federal funds from sanctuary cities.

We rate Duckworth’s claim False.

Our Sources

NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt, Donald Trump interview, May 4, 2016

CNN, Mark Kirk interview, May 6, 2016

Email with Matt McGrath, Duckworth’s deputy campaign manager, June 21, 2016

Phone interview with Chicago Crime Commission's press officer, John Pastuovic, June 22, 2016

Fox 32 Chicago, Mark Kirk interview, May 7, 2013

Mark Kirk, tweet, June 7, 2016     

United States Senate website, sanctuary jurisdictions roll call votes, increased penalties roll call votes, July 13, 2016 

Project Vote Smart website, Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act voting record, July 13, 2016

Email with Eleni Demertzis, Kirk's campaign communications director, July 13, 2016

Browse the Truth-O-Meter

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Tammy Duckworth says Mark Kirk called for the 'mass arrest of 18,000 African Americans'

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