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AP FACT CHECK: Democratic debate rhetoric under scrutiny

WASHINGTON (AP) — Ten more Democrats jousted on a Detroit stage Wednesday in what was probably the last of the traffic-jammed, double-barreled presidential debates.

A look at the veracity of their rhetoric as the contenders fought not only to stand out to primary voters but to stay in contention for the winnowed-down debates to come:

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BILL DE BLASIO, mayor of New York City, on why he hasn’t fired the police officer who used a chokehold on Eric Garner: “For the first time, we are not waiting on the federal Justice Department which told the city of New York that we could not proceed because the Justice Department was pursuing their prosecution and years went by and a lot of pain accrued.”

THE FACTS: The New York Police Department decided to delay disciplinary proceedings for Officer Daniel Pantaleo on its own accord and was not legally prohibited from moving forward with the matter.

The NYPD said in July 2018 that it would be moving ahead with the proceeding as the federal civil rights investigation appeared to stall. But the Justice Department has contended that it never prohibited the city from moving forward and even told a police department lawyer in the spring of 2018 that the department could move ahead with its proceedings.

While local officials sometimes defer their investigation as federal prosecutors conduct criminal probes, there was no requirement for the police department to wait for the inquiry in weighing a decision about whether to fire Pantaleo.

The Justice Department announced earlier this month that it would not bring any charges in connection with Garner’s death. Pantaleo faced an internal departmental trial and a departmental judge hasn’t officially rendered a recommendation yet on whether he should be fired or disciplined. Federal prosecutors observed some of those proceedings.

The police commissioner, who reports to de Blasio, could act at any time to fire Pantaleo.

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CORY BOOKER, senator from New Jersey, on decriminalizing illegal entry at the border: “Doing it through the civil courts means you won’t need these awful detention centers that I’ve been to.”

THE FACTS: Not exactly. It’s true that there could be reduced immigration detention at the border if there were no criminal charge for illegal entry. But border officers would still need to process people coming over the border and that could lead to temporary holding, such as the so-called cages that Democrats call inhumane.

Also, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement uses detention to hold people awaiting deportation who have been accused or convicted of more serious crimes, including those who have green cards or other legal status.

For example, in December 2018, ICE detained 47,486 people, according to an analysis at Syracuse University. Of those, 29,753 had no conviction, and those people probably would not be in detention if illegal entry were a civil issue.

But 6,186 had serious crime convictions, 2,237 had other convictions and 9,310 had minor violations and those people could still be held, according to the analysis.

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KAMALA HARRIS, senator from California: “Autoworkers we expect, perhaps, hundreds of thousands will be out of jobs by the end of the year.”

THE FACTS: This dire prediction is faulty. The auto industry is not facing the imminent risk of such a collapse.

That might have happened — as a worst-case scenario — if Trump had followed through on threats to enact new tariffs and policies that would have hurt the auto industry. But he didn’t.

Harris has been citing the Center for Automotive Research’s 2018 study , which examined hypothetical job losses across all U.S. industries touched by the auto business — not just the nation’s nearly 1 million autoworkers — if Trump introduced certain tariffs and policies.

The study gave a wide range of possible job losses, from 82,000 to 750,000. The findings were later revised in February to a worst-case scenario of 367,000 across all industries by the end of this year. Those hypothetical job losses would be spread across car and parts makers, dealers, restaurants, retail stores and any business that benefits from the auto industry.

Impact on the auto industry was further minimized when the Trump administration lifted tariffs on steels and aluminum products coming from Canada and Mexico.

The industry has added thousands of jobs since a crisis in 2009 that sent General Motors and Chrysler into bankruptcy protection.

After a record sales year of 17.55 million in 2016 demand has fallen to an expected 16.8 million new vehicle sales this year. But the industry is still posting strong numbers and is not heading off a cliff.

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JULIAN CASTRO, former Obama administration housing secretary: “We need to ensure we have a national use of force standard and that we end qualified immunity for police officers so that we can hold them accountable for using excessive force.”

THE FACTS: Castro is incorrect to suggest that police officers can’t be held accountable for using excessive force. There’s no bar to prosecuting officers for acts of force and violence, though the standards differ for local and federal prosecution.

To the extent he’s suggesting that it is challenging to successfully prosecute a police officer, he is correct.

But that’s not because of qualified immunity but rather because of the tall burden of proof, particularly on federal prosecutors. The Justice Department brings criminal charges against police officers in cases when they can prove that the officer intentionally violated someone’s civil rights by using more force than the law allows. Department officials said they could not make such a case in the investigation Castro and other Democrats were discussing — the 2014 chokehold death of New York man Eric Garner.

Qualified immunity is a legal protection shielding public servants from legal actions for performing their jobs.

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HARRIS: “Right now in America, we have seniors who every day – millions of seniors – are going into the Medicare system.”

THE FACTS: It’s more like 10,000 people a day who turn 65 and become eligible for Medicare, which offers coverage for hospitalization, doctor visits, prescription drugs and other services.

Medicare covers more than 60 million people, including disabled people of any age.

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JOE BIDEN: “We should put some of these insurance executives who totally oppose my plan in jail for the 9 billion opioids they sell out there.”

THE FACTS: The former vice president must have meant drug company executives, since insurance companies pay for medications — they don’t sell them.

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HARRIS: “We’ve got a person who has put babies in cages and separated children from their parents.”

MICHAEL BENNET, senator from Colorado, in a message directed at President Donald Trump: “Kids belong in classrooms not cages.”

THE FACTS: The “cages” for young migrants at the border were built and used by President Barack Obama . The Trump administration has used them, too. He is referring to chain-link enclosures inside border facilities where migrants have been temporarily housed, separated by sex and age.

It’s true that the Trump administration separated at least 2,700 migrant children from their parents under the now-suspended “zero tolerance” policy. Obama did not routinely separate families detained at the border.

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Associated Press writers Colleen Long, Eric Tucker, Michael Balsamo, Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar, Calvin Woodward and Amanda Seitz contributed to this report.

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