Reuters, AFP Retract Migrant Children Articles That Were Based on Obama-Era Figures

No, the U.S. is not currently detaining 100,000 children.

U.S. Border Patrol agents stand watch on the U.S. side of the U.S.-Mexico border fence / Getty Images
• November 20, 2019 7:37 am


On Wednesday several news outlets were forced to retract stories lamenting the number of migrant children detained by U.S. authorities after it emerged the pieces were based on Obama-era figures.

In a Tuesday press conference ahead of the release of the United Nations Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty, independent expert Manfred Nowak told reporters that the United States "still [has] more than 100,000 children in migration-related detention." Nowak also told AFP, "The total number currently detained is 103,000."

That figure also formed the basis of articles from NPR and the wire service Reuters, whose version was then picked up by outlets such as NBC News, the New York Times, and HuffPost. Democrats on the House Homeland Security Committee quickly seized upon the figures, tweeting, "These numbers are horrifying. The Trump administration's child separation policy is cruel and shameful."

But some immigration reporters and activists immediately cried foul.

"I… don't think that number is accurate," tweeted BuzzFeed's Hamed Aleaziz.

"That's not true," tweeted Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, a lawyer at the American Immigration Council. "Currently, there are [around] 1,500 kids in family detention, plus [around] 5,000 kids in [Office of Refugee Resettlement] shelters… I am baffled at this claim."

In a retraction issued Wednesday, AFP announced that it was pulling its story.

"The author of the report has clarified that his figures do not represent the number of children currently in migration-related US detention, but the total number of children in migration-related US detention in 2015," the wire service tweeted out.

Reuters soon followed up with its own retraction: "A Nov. 18 story headlined ‘U.S. has world’s highest rate of children in detention -U.N. study' is withdrawn. The United Nations issued a statement on Nov. 19 saying the number was not current but was for the year 2015. No replacement story will be issued."

Assuming the U.N.'s correction will not be further corrected, the 100,000 figure would be the responsibility of Barack Obama, who was president in 2015, rather than President Donald Trump.

In a case of unfortunate timing, Reuters' retraction came within minutes of presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) citing its story on Twitter.

"Under Trump, America leads the world in locking up little kids—including 100,000 children at the border," Sanders said. He later deleted the tweet.