Former Vice President Joe Biden appeared to commit a gaffe on Friday, telling immigration activists, “We need family separation.”
Biden, who is facing increased criticism over the three million deportations that occurred under President Barack Obama, made the gaffe during a campaign event in New Hampshire when confronted by immigration activists.
“I want you to apologize to the three million immigrants that were deported and separated from their families under the Obama years,” a man speaking Spanish told Biden through a translator. “I want to know if you will commit to stopping all deportations and detentions if you are elected president.”
Biden, who openly smirked when asked the question, stood defiant in the face of the activists, many of whom waved signs and chanted at the former vice president.
“No, I will not halt deportations and detentions, I would make sure that every single,” Biden said, before being cut off by chants of “three million deportations” and “apologize now” from the crowd.
When allowed to finish, Biden said that deportations for a “serious felony” were warranted, while those for “a misdemeanor” were not.
“Under my administration, there will be no family separation until there is a hearing whether or not asylum is in fact warranted,” he said. “And there is no need to put anybody in a private prison, when we did it there was a court where you could have people show up for their hearings whether or not they were separated.”
Claiming that illegal migrants were “more likely to show up” to court proceedings “when they are together rather then being separated,” Biden reiterated that he drew the line between felonies and misdemeanors for deportation.
“I will not apologize for the deportation of people who have committed a felony,” he added. “I will apologize for deportations if in fact you were deported because in fact you were engaged in a misdemeanor… or your family was separated.”
“We need family separation,” Biden added, putting his hands together, appearing to indicate reunification instead.
The former vice president has made ending family separation, a policy begun under George W. Bush administration and kept in tact during Obama’s tenure in the White House, a cornerstone of his immigration plan. The policy revolves around federal statutes preventing children from being housed in the same federal facilities as adults because of fears of abuse and neglect.
Despite being in place for the entirety of the Obama administration, the policy has become controversial since President Donald Trump took office amid an explosion of migrants attempting to enter the U.S. illegally from Central America’s Northern Triangle.
The 76-year-old Biden’s gaffe on the topic underscores his long history of verbal misstatements. Last month at the first Democrat presidential debate, Biden pledged his first “priority” in the White House would be defeating Trump.
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