An attempt to score political points against President Trump ahead of civil rights hearings by Democrats of the House Oversight and Reform Committee backfired this week, as images shared via Twitter critical of the handling of immigrants at detention facilities were revealed to have been taken in 2014, during former President Barack Obama’s time in office.
The posts were deleted shortly after President Donald Trump and House Committee Republicans pointed out the error the House Democrats had made.
The images were intended to call attention to hearings being held by a sub-committee investigating concerns of deplorable conditions and a broken immigration system. Democrats have been highly critical of President Trump’s handling of the recent influx at the border, with Rep. Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and some other critics referring to the detention centers as “concentration camps.”
Ocasio-Cortez has also said publicly that during her tour of a Flint, Texas detention facility, women there reported being forced to drink from toilets and were prevented from washing or showering.
Border Patrol Chief Roy Villareal posted a video online that claims to refute her message. The toilets in question feature a portable water fountain on top and a toilet below, like what is commonly used in jails and prisons throughout the US. Villareal filled a glass of water and drank it on the video.
The first post deleted by House Democrats featured text that said “Last week, members of our committee visited a detention center at the southern border and discovered grotesque treatment of children. This week, we are examining the inhumane treatment of the children in these detention centers.”
“House Democrats are promoting their ‘civil rights’ hearing on ‘kids in cages’ and ‘inhumane treatment’ with a photo from 2014, when Joe Biden was Vice President. So dishonest!” Trump tweeted in response.
A second post that also featured Obama-era images called out the handling of immigrants. A tweet from Committee Republicans again pointed out the mistaken use of the image.
The second post was intended to replace the first message, which was deleted. Republicans again had to point out to Democrats the image they were using to illustrate the poor conditions was from the same 2014 Associated Press photo shoot.
In 2018, the same photos were used by Democrats who were forced to delete the images after Republicans and the AP photographer who took the pictures noticed the misleading use.
Political Response and Media Reaction
Democrats responded to criticism by claiming that Obama was not motivated to deter migrants, only to ensure safety and safe processing. While President Obama deported more illegal immigrants than any modern president, he faced little backlash from his own party for doing so. President Obama, however, did not separate families at the border as a matter of policy.
The Trump Administration began separating families in large numbers because of President Trump’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy, which mandates that all migrants caught illegally crossing the border face criminal charges. When adults are charged with a crime, they are separated from their children. This is why the Obama Administration had a “catch and release” policy — to avoid separating families.
“The Obama Administration did not separate children from their families and create dehumanizing conditions as a way to deter immigration and asylum, which is the stated policy of the Trump Administration,” the unnamed aide said.
Democrats have been trying since at least 2018 to tie conditions at border patrol detention facilities to Trump administration actions, while being forced to acknowledge that same or similar conditions have existed in various forms since the 1990s.
Republicans, who do not dispute the state of conditions at detention facilities, have complained for months that Democrats have been unwilling to move forward legislation to fund relief efforts. A $4.8 billion spending package was recently passed over objection by many Democrats, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a member of the committee that posted the photos.
Republicans have claimed that overcrowding and lack of funds have caused many issues with the detention facilities, some of which are holding three or four times as many people as they were intended to hold.
Nearly every month this year has seen more than 100,000 immigrants and asylum seekers detained. A major reason the detention facilities have become overcrowded is a result of the slow court process required to process applicants and the higher concentration of arrests following President Trump’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy.
Media reporting on the issue cut cleanly across partisan lines. In a stunning illustration of how the media constructs our world, many right-leaning news organizations slammed House Democrats for the erroneous messaging:
Left-leaning outlets, on the other hand, including The New York Times, CNN, and NBC News categorically opted not to cover the story.