Biden in final debate vows an immigration overhaul in his first 100 days as president

In this file photo, a 2-year-old cries as her mother, a Honduran asylum seeker, is searched and detained near the U.S.-Mexico border in 2018. The asylum seekers were detained by U.S. Border Patrol agents before being sent to a processing center for possible separation under the Trump administration's "zero tolerance" policy toward undocumented immigrants. During the final presidential debate, former Vice President Joe Biden said the Trump administration's policy of separating children from their families was "criminal." Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden on Thursday night distanced himself from the Obama administration’s handling of undocumented people that led to the highest rate of deportations of any presidency and said he would act swiftly on immigration as president.

During the final presidential debate at Belmont University in Nashville, Biden admitted that the Obama administration made a mistake in not reforming immigration policy during eight years in office. More than 3 million undocumented people were deported while Barack Obama was president and Biden served as his vice president.

“It took too long to get it right,” Biden said.

Biden said if he’s elected, within 100 days he’s going to direct Congress to craft a legislative pathway to citizenship for more than 11 million undocumented people living in the U.S.

Biden has released two immigration policies, in which the first portion would undo all the Trump administration policies, such as family separations, and end detention centers for children. The second part would work to provide a path for citizenship.

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden during final debate with President Donald Trump on Oct. 22, 2020 in Nashville, Tenn. Photo by Jim Bourg-Pool | Getty Images

“And all of those so-called dreamers, those DACA kids, they’re going to be immediately certified again to be able to stay in this country and put on a path to citizenship,” Biden said, referring to an Obama-era program for undocumented people brought to the United States as children.

President Donald Trump defended his administration’s immigration policies and blamed the Obama administration for creating detention facilities in the first place.

“Who made the cages, Joe?” Trump asked multiple times.

The Trump administration has come under fire this week after lawyers told a federal judge that they cannot find the parents of 545 children who were separated under the administration’s “zero tolerance” policy. The Trump administration started separating families in 2017 under a pilot program.

“Their kids were ripped from their arms and separated,” Biden said. “And now they cannot find over 500 sets of those parents and those kids are alone. It’s criminal.”

Trump, returning to a familiar theme that appeals to his political base, said that the Obama administration’s practice of “catch and release” let dangerous people into the country.

The term comes from the George W. Bush administration and it allows an undocumented person to live in the U.S. while they await a hearing in immigration court rather than stay in a detention center.

“He has no understanding of immigration law,” Trump said of his opponent. “‘Capture and release’ was a disaster, a murderer would come in, and a rapist would come in, a very bad person would come in and we would take their name and have to release them into our country.”

Trump also said that those who are apprehended “don’t come back” for their court cases, “except for those with the lowest IQ, they might come back.” Biden responded that it is “simply not true” they don’t come back. FactCheck.org has said that the Trump administration itself has said that 50 percent of those apprehended and released appear in court.

Ariana Figueroa
Ariana covers the nation's capital for States Newsroom, including politics and policy, lobbying, elections and campaign finance. Before joining States Newsroom, Ariana covered public health and chemical policy on Capitol Hill for E&E News. She's worked for the Miami Herald and her hometown paper, the Tampa Bay Times. Her work has also appeared in the Chicago Tribune and NPR. She is a graduate of the University of Florida.