WaPo Defends DACA Through Misleading Fact Check


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Holmes Lybrand Fact Check Editor at The Daily Caller News Foundation
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A Washington Post fact check on whether Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) “helped spur” the surge of minors that illegally crossed the southern border in 2014 came out more like an op-ed in defense of the program.

President Trump claimed DACA “helped spur” the influx of foreign children across the border in the summers of 2013 and 2014, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions echoed that claim, saying DACA “contributed to” the influx. WaPo’s primary fact check reporter Glenn Kessler rated the “helped spur” claim from Trump as “mostly false” with 3 Pinocchios, and Sessions claim as a bit closer to two Pinocchios.

Kessler argues that a law passed in 2008 under Bush meant to combat trafficking, along with the growing conflict in South America, drove the surges of foreign children coming across the border. Kessler fails to address several reports and interviews with illegal immigrants that demonstrate DACA’s potential contribution to the surge. He does not adequately prove the claim that DACA “helped spur” the surges is mostly false.

One of the first mistakes Kessler makes in the fact check is stating that DACA was “prosecutorial discretion.” “Essentially, Obama was ordering a program of ‘prosecutorial discretion’ that would not target for deportation undocumented aliens who meet these qualifications,” he wrote. But he fails to mention it is highly contested whether Obama ordered a program of prosecutorial discretion, because DACA includes work authorization and some federal benefits.

Kessler does correctly note that “in 2014, nearly 70,000 unaccompanied children were apprehended at the southern border as they made the trek from Central America to the U.S. border, a jump of 77 percent from the previous year.” He argues there is no direct link between this surge — plus the one in 2013 — and DACA:

“A bigger factor appears to be the 2008 law signed by Bush — as well as violence and economic conditions in the countries the children fled. DACA may have helped foster a perception that Obama was lenient on illegal immigrants, but it is hard to draw a direct line, as Sessions and Trump strive to do.”

Kessler’s fact check is dependent not on what Trump or Sessions said but what they “strive to do.” Trump claimed that DACA “helped spur” the inflow and Sessions argued that “among other things” DACA “contributed to a surge of minors at the southern border.”

“There was a surge in unaccompanied children in 2014, two years after DACA was announced,” Kessler writes in the summary. “But that does not mean DACA led to that crisis or even contributed significantly to it.” As previously mentioned, neither Trump nor Sessions claimed that DACA “led to” the crisis or even that it “contributed significantly.”

Kessler is not fact checking Trump or Sessions’s statements but what he believes they might have meant.

He actually cites WaPo’s own reporting on a Border Patrol memo that seems to support Trump and Sessions’s claim:

“The Washington Post in 2014 reported that a leaked Border Patrol memo summarizing interviews with children detained at the border in 2014 indicated that “the main reason the migrants had crossed into the United States was ‘to take advantage of the ‘new’ U.S. law that grants a free pass or permit’ from the government.”

Kessler’s defense is that the WaPo report cites a general “perception” that “they [undocumented children] will be allowed to stay under the Obama administration’s immigration policies” but does not directly mention DACA. He fails to consider how much this “perception” may have been influenced by DACA, which is part and parcel to “the Obama administration’s immigration policies.”

Lastly, the mere fact that the article appears to be fact checking Sessions but is, in actuality, fact checking a claim on DACA from Trump is enough to cast doubt on the rating. The summary states:

Sessions was more careful in his phrasing, since he acknowledged there were other factors behind the surge. We wavered between Two and Three Pinocchios, with Sessions’s statement more of a Two and Trump leaning toward Three. Since Trump is the president, his language is more important and thus earns a Three.

But the fact check claims to be over Sessions’s statement:

WaPo’s fact check rating system designates 3 Pinocchios as denoting “significant factual error and/or obvious contradictions,” but Kessler fails to prove either in Trump and Session’s statements.

Update: Since this column’s publication, The Washington Post has updated the “Share The Facts” card mentioned in this article to represent the 2 Pinnochios for Sessions’s statement.

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