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Miriam Valverde
By Miriam Valverde August 27, 2019

Facebook post makes inaccurate comparison of family separations under Trump, Obama

A Facebook post falsely claims that a significantly higher number of children were separated from their parents during the Obama administration than under President Donald Trump’s administration.

"Did you know 89,000 children were separated from their parents under Obama? ONLY 1,900 children have been separated under Trump. This PERFECTLY exposes the bias of the media," said the Facebook post from Aug. 25, with nearly 400 shares.

"Good to know," wrote one commenter.

The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)

The post doesn’t specifically say "immigrant" children — but the national discussion on separated families has centered on children and parents separated at the southwest border as a consequence of Trump’s "zero-tolerance" immigration policy. The policy called for the prosecution of immigrants who crossed the border illegally; when adults came in with children, they were separated by immigration officials. Children were transferred over to the care of Health and Human Services Department, and adults taken into federal custody for prosecution.

Generally, under Trump and other administrations, immigration officials separate a child from an adult under three conditions: when authorities cannot establish the custodial relationship, when they believe that the custodian may be a threat to the child, or when the custodian is being detained for prosecution.

Immigration experts have told PolitiFact that immigrant family separations at the border during the Obama years did not happen at the scale that have under Trump’s "zero-tolerance" policy.

In November, Katie Waldman, a spokeswoman for the Department of Homeland Security, told PolitiFact that the Obama administration did not count the number of families separated.

We don’t know where the Facebook post got its 89,000 figure. It’s possible that it’s a reference to a different set of children — children who arrived at the border alone without a parent or a guardian rather than those separated from their parents.

Featured Fact-check

A 2016 Senate subcommittee report said that since the beginning of fiscal year 2014, Health and Human Services had placed almost 90,000 unaccompanied immigrant children with sponsors in the United States. "According to HHS, it places the majority of those (unaccompanied alien children) with the child’s parent or legal guardian," the report said.

Overall, family separations did not happen under the Obama administration as a result of a "zero-tolerance" policy like Trump’s, despite Trump’s false claims that both presidents "had the exact same policy."

The total number of children separated from their parents under Trump’s administration is unclear because of faulty record-keeping. In June 2018, officials said that at least 2,342 children were separated from their parents between May 5 and June 9 of 2018 as a result of the "zero-tolerance" policy.

Under a court order, around 2,800 children have been reunited with their parents or otherwise discharged from federal custody.

Our ruling

A Facebook post claimed that "89,000 children were separated from their parents under Obama" and "only 1,900 children have been separated under Trump."

Immigration experts have told PolitiFact that family separations under Trump happened at a larger scale than they did under Obama. The Obama administration did not have a "zero-tolerance" policy that led to systematic family separations, as did Trump’s administration.

A spokeswoman for Homeland Security previously told PolitiFact that the Obama administration did not track the number of families separated. The Facebook post’s 89,000 number might be a reference to a number of children placed with sponsors during Obama’s administration — but those children arrived alone without a parent or guardian. That doesn’t mean they were separated from their parents.

The exact number of children separated under Trump is unclear, but based on previous data provided by Trump officials, the number at least surpasses 1,900.

The Facebook post is inaccurate. We rate it False.

Our Sources

Facebook post on separations under Trump, Obama, Aug. 25, 2019

U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, Protecting Unaccompanied Alien Children from Trafficking and Other Abuses: The Role of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, Staff Report 2016

Email interview, Katie Waldman, DHS spokeswoman, Nov. 27, 2018

PolitiFact, Donald Trump, again, falsely says Obama had family separation policy, June 21, 2019; No, Donald Trump’s separation of immigrant families was not Barack Obama’s policy, June 19, 2018; Donald Trump's executive order ending his administration's separation of immigrant families, June 25, 2018; Donald Trump falsely says family separations were Obama policy, Nov. 29, 2018

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Facebook post makes inaccurate comparison of family separations under Trump, Obama

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