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

Democratic presidential nominee Joe BidenJoe BidenFour members of Sikh community among victims in Indianapolis shooting Overnight Health: NIH reverses Trump's ban on fetal tissue research | Biden investing .7B to fight virus variants | CDC panel to meet again Friday on J&J On The Money: Moderates' 0B infrastructure bill is a tough sell with Democrats | Justice Dept. sues Trump ally Roger Stone for unpaid taxes 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 TrumpFreedom Caucus member condemns GOP group pushing 'Anglo-Saxon political traditions' MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell's new free speech site to ban certain curse words Secret Facebook groups of special operations officers include racist comments, QAnon posts: report 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 SessionsGarland rescinds Trump-era memo curtailing consent decrees Biden picks vocal Trump critics to lead immigration agencies The Hill's Morning Report - Biden assails 'epidemic' of gun violence amid SC, Texas shootings 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.