Media Outlets Retract Story Claiming Trump Administration Has Detained 100,000 Children in ‘Migration-Related US Detention’

November 20, 2019 Updated: November 20, 2019

Several news outlets were forced to make retractions on Nov. 19 after they falsely attributed the statistics of Obama-era migration-related child detentions to President Donald Trump from a U.N. report.

The Agence France-Presse (AFP) news agency, Reuters, NPR, and The Associated Press were among the media organizations to withdraw their reports which claimed over 100,000 children were in migration-related U.S. detention.

The media outlets took their figures from a U.N. report published Nov. 18, the author of which has since admitted the numbers are from a U.N. refugee agency report citing data from 2015, when Barack Obama was president. In his report, Manfred Nowak, an expert from the U.N. Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty, claimed it was the “world’s highest rate” of detained children.

Nowak also said the statistics referred to the cumulative number of migrant children held in detention at any point during that year, whether “for two days or eight months or the whole year,” not all simultaneously.

Citing the report, AFP originally ran a story which stated, “More than 100,000 children are currently being held in migration-related detention in the United States, often in violation of international law, the U.N. said Monday.”

However, it issued a correction on Twitter stating that it was withdrawing the story.

“AFP is withdrawing this story. The author of the report has clarified that his figures do not represent the number of children currently in migration-related U.S. detention, but the total number of children in migration-related U.S. detention in 2015. We will delete the story,” AFP tweeted on Nov. 19.

AFP previously tweeted out its story with the headline, citing the U.N., “More than 100,000 children in migration-related U.S. detention.”

The news agency was later mocked by the Trump campaign on Twitter for its error.

They wrote: “Shorter @AFP: Once we found out that more than 100,000 children were in migration-related U.S. detention while Joe Biden was Vice President, we no longer wanted to report this story. Nothing to see here!”

Reuters meanwhile retracted its version of the story after realizing the figures were falsely attributed, and published on its website: “A Nov. 18 story headlined ‘U.S. has world’s highest rate of children in detention—U.N. study’ is withdrawn.”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.”

Quick to jump on the bandwagon was the Democrat National Committee, which described the figures in the U.N. report as “Our National Shame,” and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who tweeted the Reuters report to his millions of followers with the caption: “Under Trump, America leads the world in locking up little kids—including 100,000 children at the border. This is immoral.”

Meanwhile, Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) tweeted that “these high numbers of detentions are straight from the Trump administration,” linking to a report by The Associated Press which was carried by NBC News.

In a written explanation, the news agency said its report “quoted an independent expert working with the U.N. human rights office saying that over 100,000 children are currently being held.”

“But that figure refers to the total number of U.S. child detentions for the year 2015, according to the U.N. refugee agency,” it added.

AP has since updated its report, stating that data newly released by the U.S. government this month shows that 69,550 migrant children have been detained over the past year.

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