On Fox, ICE director defends tearing asylum-seeking families apart using a misleading statistic on human smuggling

The acting director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Thomas Homan, appeared on Fox News June 19 to defend the Trump administration’s policy of separating the children and parents of asylum-seeking families at the border, pushing the misleading talking point that “there's a 300 percent increase on people claiming family units that aren't family units.” According to a Washington Post reporter, while it is true the number of adults arriving at the border with children not their own has increased by about 315 percent, these cases make up only .61 percent of the total number of family units apprehended at the border.

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen also used the misleading statistic at a White House press briefing, arguing that immigrant children arriving at the southern border are being used as “pawns by the smugglers and the traffickers.”

But The Washington Post’s Philip Bump obtained the full data behind the statistic and found that the claim overstates the problem of human smuggling at the border. “In other words,” Bump wrote, “for every 1,000 families that approached the border in the first five months of this fiscal year, only six allegedly involved individuals pretending to be a child’s parents.”

From the June 19 edition of Fox News’ America’s Newsroom:

BILL HEMMER (CO-HOST): Did you see [Sen.] Ted Cruz [(R-TX)]'s idea? He's got a proposal floating out there. More immigration judges, maybe more beds, et cetera. That would help process the system faster. And then you only separate families in the event that there is, I think, aggravated criminal activity or potential harm. I believe that's the way it's phrased. What do you think of Senator Cruz's idea, sir?

THOMAS HOMAN (ACTING ICE DIRECTOR): I haven't seen his bill, but you know what, we got to talk about that because we've seen over a 300 percent increase on people claiming to be parents of children, and they're not. These children are being used by the criminal organizations as pawns and being rented to claim as family units so they don't get detained. So -- I haven't seen that legislation. We need to make sure, number one, we protect these children being used by these criminal organizations as bait. There's a 300 percent increase on people claiming family units that aren't family units.

Homan has a history of retreating to Fox to defend his agency’s ruthless, anti-immigrant practices. In March, one ICE spokesperson quit after Homan mandated ICE field offices lie about the number of undocumented immigrants able to evade arrest after being warned of an upcoming ICE raid by Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf. The number of failed arrests was vastly overstated, but Fox News repeatedly broadcast the erroneous figure before it was proved untrue, and Media Matters did not find any instance in which the network corrected the information.