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Biden fact checks Trump on 545 families separated at border, calls policy 'criminal'

Democratic presidential nominee Joe BidenJoe BidenAppeals court OKs White House diverting military funding to border wall construction Federal student loan payment suspension extended another month Pentagon: Tentative meeting between spy agencies, Biden transition set for early next week MORE on Thursday called a Trump administration policy that lost track of more than 500 separated migrant families "criminal" as the two sparred over immigration policy during this year's final presidential debate.

The Department of Homeland Security revealed earlier this week, as part of an order related to a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), that it had lost track of the families of 545 children separated at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Biden during the debate fact-checked President TrumpDonald John TrumpAppeals court OKs White House diverting military funding to border wall construction Pentagon: Tentative meeting between spy agencies, Biden transition set for early next week Conservative policy director calls Section 230 repeal an 'existential threat' for tech MORE, who initially claimed the children were brought to the country by "coyotes," or human smugglers.

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"What happened? Their kids were ripped from their ams and separated and now they cannot find over 500 sets of those parents and those kids are alone. Nowhere to go, nowhere to go. It's criminal," a clearly impassioned Biden said.

ACLU lawyer Lee Gelernt Wednesday explained on a call with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus that the parents of 545 separated children have not been found. 

Of those 545, said Gelernt, the government has also not accounted for 362 children, and in 183 cases the ACLU and the government have identified the child, but have not located the parents.

After Biden corrected Trump's assertion, the president pivoted, accusing the Obama administration of beginning the policy of separation and building cages to detain migrant children. 

"Who built the cages, Joe? Who built the cages, Joe?" prodded Trump repeatedly.

The Obama administration, in which Biden served as vice president, did use facilities known as "hieleras" or coolers for migrant detention at the border, in certain cases for family detention.

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But it did not follow a policy of family separation as a deterrent. That policy was put in place by the Trump administration reportedly at the behest of then-Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsTime to bring federal employees home for every holiday Alabama zeroes in on Richard Shelby's future Tuberville incorrectly says Gore was president-elect in 2000 MORE.

Biden ripped Trump for the separation policy, which he said "makes us a laughingstock and it violates every notion of who we are as a nation."

Trump defended the policy, touting conditions at immigration detention centers.

"They are so well taken care of, they're in facilities that are so clean. But just ask one question, who built the cages?" Trump asked debate moderator Kristen Welker.