Fact Check: 'Coyotes' Is NOT A Xenophobic Term For Parents Illegally Bringing Children Into The U.S.

Fact Check

  • by: Eric Ferkenhoff
Fact Check: 'Coyotes' Is NOT A Xenophobic Term For Parents Illegally Bringing Children Into The U.S. Not A Slur

When President Trump said some undocumented children were brought across the southern border into the U.S. by "coyotes" was he using a xenophobic term for the parents of those children? No, that's not true: Trump was using the border region's slang term for the smugglers who lead illegal border crossers through the arid wilderness from Mexico into the U.S. The term is used by law enforcement, by border region residents and by the smugglers themselves, ascribing to them the grudging respect desert people have for the smarts, speed, and resilience of the small canid.

The claim can be found in a post (archived here) published to Twitter on October 23, 2020 and titled "David Hogg on Twitter." The tweet read:

Imagine calling the immigrant parents that bring their children to the United States for a better life 'Coyotes' The level of xenophobia is sickening."

This is what the post looked like on Twitter at the time of writing:

Twitter screenshot

(Source: Twitter screenshot taken on Fri Oct 23 17:31:53 2020 UTC)

Hogg was one of many Twitter users who misunderstood the term and took to their favorite social media platform to criticize Trump's language after the October 22, 2020 debate between the president and his Democratic challenger, former Vice President Joe Biden. Trump used the word when answering the debate moderator's question about the 545 children whose parents cannot be located after immigration officers separated children from their parents and deported the parents:

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. We now have as strong a border as we've ever had,"

Here is the part of the debate on immigration, in which Trump says it, according to The Guardian's YouTube channel.

According to the National Review on October 23, 2020, "In the New York Times archives, 360 articles have used the term "coyote" and "immigration." In other words, it's a common reference to human smugglers across the United States' southern border with Mexico into desert-heavy and coyote-heavy areas in the Southwest through tunnels dug under the border and other means.

Latino USA, posted a story on September 12, 2014 titled "Coyotes: 10 Things To Remember About Smugglers." It opened:

The thousands of Central American and Mexican children that have come to the US border in the past few years are not getting here on their own. Here are the 10 things you need to know about so-called 'coyotes', the groups of human smugglers that cross migrants in the U.S. border."

The story uses the term 12 times, including in the first point:

According to ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement), human smugglers are not the same as human traffickers. Human smuggling involves the voluntary intention to get yourself smuggled across international borders, and a smuggler or coyote, is your facilitator. Human trafficking, on the other hand, is the transportation of people with the purpose of selling them or exploiting them in forced prostitution and other forms of labor. In trafficking, people are usually held against their consent."

Still, the misunderstanding of the term was rampant on social media during and after the debate. Consider this collage of tweets posted by Sophia Narwitz to Twitter to mock people like Hogg's outrage:

Here is a larger image of the collage:

Screen Shot 2020-10-23 at 2.47.13 PM.png

Some politicians also misunderstood, thinking Trump meant that the coyotes for which human smugglers are named, carried children and families across the border. This (archived here), from Dar'shun Kendrick, an attorney and state representative from Georgia:

Kendrick got taken to task for posting the misunderstanding, which she tried to clean up later in the thread. This post is from Andre Leadon:

The debate moment dealt with a serious immigration issue that has been dogging the Trump administration -- the separation of children from their parents after crossing the border. A new government report, first revealed by the Times, says the deported parents of 545 children now being held in the U.S. have not been located, months after they were separated.

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  Eric Ferkenhoff

Eric Ferkenhoff has been a reporter, editor and professor for 27 years, working chiefly out of the Midwest and now the South. Focusing on the criminal and juvenile justice systems, education and politics, Ferkenhoff has won several journalistic and academic awards and helped start a fact-checking project at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he continues to teach advanced reporting. Ferkenhoff also writes and edits for the juvenile justice site JJIE.org.


Read more about or contact Eric Ferkenhoff

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