President Donald Trump referenced “coyotes” helping to smuggle families from Mexico across the southern border into the United States when addressing the topic of illegal immigration during Thursday night’s presidential debate.
“Children are brought here by coyotes and lots of bad people, cartels, and they’re brought here, and they used to use them to get into our country,” he said. “We now have as strong a border as we ever had. We have over 400 miles of brand new wall, you see the numbers. And we have to let people in, but they have to come in legally.”
“These 500 and plus kids came with parents … coyotes didn’t bring them over,” Joe Biden says, responding to President Trump. “It makes us a laughing stock and violates every notion of who we are as a nation.” https://t.co/HR9MFfjFDv #Debates2020 pic.twitter.com/q3eC25URJB
— ABC News (@ABC) October 23, 2020
Following that statement, Twitter lit up with a flurry of confused responses, as users thought the president meant that literal coyotes were smuggling people across the border.
“Since when did coyotes start bringing kids over here?” tweeted Karlous.
Since when did coyotes start bringing kids over here?
— Karlous (@KarlousM) October 23, 2020
“The children are brought here by coyotes?” tweeted “Frasier” actress Peri Gilpin.
The children are brought here by coyotes?
— Peri Gilpin (@GilpinPeri) October 23, 2020
“What does ‘children are brought here by coyotes’ mean?!” tweeted Nicole Schuman of PRNewsonline.
What does "children are brought here by coyotes" mean?! #Debates2020
— Nicole Schuman (@Buffalogal) October 23, 2020
“I thought i was tripping when i heard that,” tweeted Tennessee Titans fullback Khari Blasingame in response to a tweet that said, “‘Children are bought here by coyotes’ -WTF DONALD TRUMP.”
I thought i was tripping when i heard that.
— Khari Blasingame (@KB_TwoThree) October 23, 2020
“Hot damn, coyotes are so much smarter and capable than I ever gave them credit for. I apologize for underestimating you,” tweeted actor and producer Sendhil Ramamurthy.
Hot damn, coyotes are so much smarter and capable than I ever gave them credit for. I apologize for underestimating you.
— Sendhil Ramamurthy (@Sendhil_Rama) October 23, 2020
“Did @realDonaldTrump just say 545 kids they can’t find their parents for came over through “cartels and coyotes“?! How the hell does a coyote bring a whole human across the border?! Lord—–stop talking,” Georgia state Rep. Dar’shun Kendrick wrote.
Did @realDonaldTrump just say 545 kids they can't find their parents for came over through "cartels and coyotes"?! How the hell does a coyote bring a whole human across the border?! Lord—–stop talking. #FinalDebate
— Dar'shun Kendrick (@DarshunKendrick) October 23, 2020
“Kids came over on coyotes to America!?! Am I missing something?” tweeted Eric Metcalf of the Cleveland Browns.
Kids came over on coyotes to America!?! Am I missing something?
— Eric Metcalf (@EricMetcalf21) October 23, 2020
“I’ve seen a lot of coyotes here in SoCal but I’ve never seen one carrying a kid,” said Natalie Campisi of Forbes in a now-deleted tweet.
And there were so many more:
Tonight on blue checkmark twitter, they don’t know what coyotes are.
(This isn’t even half of all I found 🥴) pic.twitter.com/Jsh57jSBb1
— Sophia Narwitz (@SophNar0747) October 23, 2020
Other progressives simply attacked the president for making the argument at all and did not confuse the point with literal coyotes.
“TRUMP and the GOP have torn 520 Children from their parents! They came with their parents. It’s not Coyotes, it was their parents. This is an atrocity that TRUMP and GOP committed,” tweeted actor Mark Ruffalo.
TRUMP and the GOP have torn 520 Children from their parents! They came with their parents. It's not Coyotes, it was their parents. This is an atrocity that TRUMP and GOP committed.
— Mark Ruffalo (@MarkRuffalo) October 23, 2020
“Imagine calling the immigrant parents that bring their children to the United States for a better life ‘Coyotes’ The level of xenophobia is sickening,” tweeted David Hogg.
Imagine calling the immigrant parents that bring their children to the United States for a better life “Coyotes”
The level of xenophobia is sickening.
— David Hogg (@davidhogg111) October 23, 2020
As noted by The Federalist, “coyote” is a common term among border patrol agents and politicians in reference to smugglers on the southern border.
“Human smuggling happens on an industrial scale along the U.S.-Mexico border, bringing in hundreds of millions of dollars each year for smugglers, corrupt Mexican officials, and drug cartels, which charge a per-person ‘tax’ for every man, woman, and child who crosses the Rio Grande in an area under their jurisdiction,” the outlet noted.
“At the height of the migrant crisis in 2019, the number of family units being apprehended at the border was at an all-time high,” it continued. “Smugglers—coyotes—would bring across large groups, sometimes as many as a thousand people at once, and tell them to turn themselves in to U.S. Border Patrol claiming asylum. Nothing like this had ever happened before, certainly not on this scale.”