US President Donald Trump (Getty)
  • US president Donald Trump falsely claimed that only immigrants with "the lowest IQ" return for their court dates when released after being arrested by US immigration authorities.
  • Trump's comments during Thursday's presidential debate referenced a policy often called "catch and release," where migrants are released from DHS custody pending their immigration court proceedings — which his administration ended in 2018.
  • The DOJ says around 44% don't show up, and researchers say that rate is likely much lower, and no evidence suggests that migrants' IQ plays a role in their likeliness to appear in court.
  • Trump also falsely claimed that migrant children his administration separated from their parents at the border were "so well looked after."
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During Thursday's presidential debate, US President Donald Trump falsely claimed that, of the migrants arrested by US immigration authorities who are released from custody pending their court proceedings, only those "with the lowest IQ" show up for their immigration hearings.

"Less than 1% of the people come back. We have to send ICE out and border patrol out to find them," Trump said.

"When you say they come back — they don't come back, Joe, they never come back. Only the really — I hate to say this — but those with the lowest IQ, they might come back," he added.

Trump's claims refer to an immigration policy often called "catch and release," where immigration authorities have the discretion to release detained migrants who they deem to be a low safety or flight risk, pending their immigration court proceedings.

Immigration court records are kept secret by the government (and researchers have repeatedly accused the Trump administration of deleting records), so it's difficult to know exactly how many migrants end up showing up to their court dates.

But Trump's claim of 1% is far from accurate even by his own Justice Department's estimate, which said last year that 44% "of all non-detained removal cases end with an in absentia order of removal due to an alien's failure to attend a scheduled immigration court hearing."

Researchers from Syracuse University's Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) found in 2019 that 81.6% of migrant families without legal representation showed up to their initial court date, while that jumped to 99.9% for families with legal representation. Overall, they found, 81% attended every single one of their court hearings.

No evidence exists to support Trump's claim that intelligence is in any way correlated with migrants' likeliness to show up for their court dates. 

Still, Trump has been an outspoken critic of the policy, and issued a memo in April 2018 directing federal law enforcement agencies to report to the White House about steps they're taking to "expeditiously end 'catch and release' practices."

Trump also falsely claimed that migrant children his administration separated from their parents at the US-Mexico border were "so well looked after."

This refers to the administration's controversial family separation policy, which was thrust back into the spotlight this week after ACLU lawyers appointed by a federal court to help reunite those families told the court they still haven't been able to find the parents of 545 children. Trump ended the policy in June 2018 following a public outcry, and a court ordered his administration to reunite thousands of families that had been separated.

But an August report from the inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security found that migrant children were often left in vans for hours and sometimes overnight while waiting to be reunited, according to NBC News. A 2019 report by the Texas Tribune and the Center for Public Integrity also found that Trump administration officials were aware that children could be traumatiSed by the separations but accelerated the practice anyways.

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