President Donald Trump might not think it’s very smart to show up to an immigration hearing, but most undocumented immigrants disagree with him.
During a speech to a group of farmers in New Orleans on Monday, Trump — who in recent days has escalated his efforts to demonize undocumented immigrants as part of his sales pitch for a border wall — mocked immigrants who follow the rules.
“They go into our country, and then you announce — these are the laws — then you say, ‘come back in three years for your trial,’” Trump said. “Tell me what percentage of people come back. Would you say 100 percent? No you’re a little off. How about 2 percent. And those people you almost don’t want ‘cause they cannot be very smart.”
As his audience broke into laughter, Trump continued, “Two percent. Two percent. Two percent come back! Those 2 percent are not going to make America great again, that I can tell you.” You can watch the video for yourself at the top of this post.
Trump’s claim that “2 percent” of undocumented immigrants show up for court hearings is not even close to correct. Politifact, citing Justice Department data, reports that “around 60 to 75 percent of non-detained migrants have attended their immigration court proceedings.”
That still means that roughly 40,000 deportations were issued in absentia in 2017. In order to reduce the number as close to zero as possible, Trump has pushed a “catch and detain” policy that would allow for indefinite detention of undocumented immigrants.
As Vox’s Dara Lind has detailed, the US government generally detains and deports most everyone who’s caught crossing the southern border. The exceptions are generally “children or teenagers traveling alone from Central America, or they’re families traveling together, and/or they want to seek asylum to flee deadly peril in their home countries.”
In September, the Trump administration proposed a regulation that would allow it to detain undocumented immigrant children with their parents indefinitely — a change from judicial rulings (under the so-called Flores settlement) that generally bar families from being held for more than 20 days. But the administration’s new plan hasn’t been finalized, and may not be approved by a federal judge once it is.