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Amy Sherman
By Amy Sherman May 11, 2018

Donald Trump wrongly blames Democrats for 'catch and release' immigration policy

President Donald Trump called the nation’s immigration laws a "disgrace" and pointed the finger at Democrats, including U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, for the policy he calls "catch and release."

"You've seen catch and release," Trump said. "You catch them and then you release them, okay? That's what it is. This is a Democrat rule, Sherrod Brown, this is a Democrat rule, catch and release. You catch them, you release them."

Trump said that the undocumented immigrants then wait a year for a hearing and don’t show up in court.

Trump made his comments at a tax roundtable in Cleveland on May 5, a few days before U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci won the GOP primary to challenge Brown in November.

We found Trump’s talking point that "catch and release" is a "Democrat rule" wrong. In fact, the underlying policy has continued under his own administration.

"For decades, across both Democratic and Republican administrations, many immigrants apprehended while trying to enter the country (by land or sea) have been released from custody while their legal right to remain in the United States was being resolved by the courts," said Adam Cox, a New York University law school professor.

History of 'catch and release' under Bush and Obama

"Catch and release" refers to immigration authorities detaining undocumented immigrants but releasing them while they wait to appear before an immigration judge.

The practice didn’t start during a Democratic administration, said Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera, a George Mason University political science professor. On the contrary, the roots can be traced back to a U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2001 during the Republican administration of George W. Bush.

The court ruled in Zadvydas vs. Davis that the government couldn’t indefinitely hold individuals beyond six months if it’s unlikely that ICE can actually deport them soon.

The Bush administration eventually responded to the court order by increasing detention bed space and expanding "expedited removal," said Sarah Pierce, a policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute. Under expedited removal, apprehended undocumented immigrants are detained and quickly go before an immigration agent.

But in reality, the policy of releasing immigrants awaiting hearings didn’t end. Senate Republicans made attempts to stop the practice during Obama’s administration, but the process continued.

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Two key groups that have been exempted from expedited removal are those seeking asylum and undocumented minors. Those two groups soared during Obama’s tenure.

A bill signed by Bush, the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008, codified the process for the treatment of undocumented minors.

'Catch and release' under Trump

In January 2017, Trump signed an executive order to terminate "catch and release." In reality, it didn’t change actual policy.

In an October Senate hearing, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said "catch and release" was not official policy but was still happening due to a long backlog of cases and a shortage of immigration judges.

"It's just the reality that there are so many people claiming and being entitled to hearings that we don't have the ability to provide those hearings, and they are being released into the community, and they're not coming back for their hearings," Sessions said.  

The White House said that as a result of existing law, more than 107,000 unaccompanied minors had been released since fiscal year 2016. The White House blamed Congress for not providing enough money for detention space.

Brown played no particular role with 'catch and release'

Trump singled out Brown, likely because Trump was speaking in Ohio, but we found no statements by Brown about "catch and release." During the wave of unaccompanied minors in 2014, Brown called for "comprehensive immigration reform."

Earlier this year, Brown supported amendments to boost border security and provide legal status for Dreamers, but the amendments didn’t draw enough support in the Senate to proceed.

Brown’s campaign spokesman said that he has never voted or publicly commented on "catch and release."

Our ruling

Trump said the policy called "catch and release" is "a Democrat rule, Sherrod Brown, this is a Democrat rule."

Trump was referring to the practice of releasing apprehended undocumented immigrants while they await a hearing before an immigration judge. Trump misleads by labeling the policy a "Democrat rule" because it dates back to at least Republican President George W. Bush. Under Trump’s Republican leadership, the practice continues.

A few factors are at play here, including lack of detention space and the laws about unaccompanied minors. But those factors aren’t in the hands of Democrats alone.

Trump also singled out Brown, the Ohio senator, with no evidence that he played any role in the policy.

We rate this claim False.

Our Sources

President Donald Trump, Tax roundtable in Cleveland, May 5, 2018

President Donald Trump, Tweet, April 1, 2018

White House, Executive Order: Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements, Jan. 25, 2017

White House, What You Need To Know About President Donald J. Trump’s Efforts To End Catch And Release, April 9, 2018

Center for Immigration Studies, "Catch and Release," March 2014

Center for Immigration Studies, "Catch and Release: Responding to Critics," April 1, 2014

Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Memo, Dec. 8, 2009

Sen. Chuck Grassley, Senators Introduce Bill to Close Catch-and-Release Loophole, June 11, 2014

President Barack Obama, Remarks by the President in Address to the Nation on Immigration, Nov. 20, 2014

Washington Times, "Obama reinstates ‘catch-and-release’ policy for illegal immigrants," Feb. 4, 2016, "Hamilton kids face deportation Tuesday," Aug. 17, 2014

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown press release, Brown Highlights Impact of Executive Order on Ohio Refugees, Feb. 1, 2017

Cornell law, ZADVYDAS v. DAVIS et al., 2001

Bipartisan Policy Center, Unaccompanied Alien Children: A Primer, July 21, 2014

Congressional Research Service, Unaccompanied Alien Children: An Overview, Jan. 28, 2017

House of Representatives Judiciary Committee, Obama Administration Official Confirms "Catch and Release" Policy, March 21, 2016

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, Brown Applauds Senate Passage of Landmark Comprehensive Immigration Reform Bill, June 28, 2013

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, Brown Supports Commonsense, Bipartisan Immigration Compromise,  Feb. 15, 2018

Washington Post, "U.S. Ends 'Catch-And-Release' at Border," Aug. 23, 2006

Washington Post, "Despite vow to end ‘catch and release,’ Trump has freed 100,000 who illegally crossed the border," April 13, 2018

New York Times, "Trump Signs Memo Ordering End to ‘Catch and Release’ Immigration Policy," April 6, 2018

New York Times, "Immigration Policy: A Rant That Misleads," April 4, 2018

Washington Post The Fact Checker, "President Trump’s claim that Democrats created ‘catch and release’ policies," April 4, 2018

PolitiFact, "Donald Trump says Obama has let 300,000 criminal aliens to go back into U.S. communities," Sept. 2, 2016

PolitiFact, "Fact-checking Donald Trump’s tweets about the border, DACA," April 2, 2018

Interview, Sarah Pierce, Migration Policy Institute policy analyst, May 9, 2018

Interview, Adam Cox, New York University law school professor, May 9, 2018

Interview, Preston Maddock, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown campaign spokesman, May 10, 2018

Interview, Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera, associate professor of government at George Mason University, May 10, 2018

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Donald Trump wrongly blames Democrats for 'catch and release' immigration policy

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