Why Did Trump Keep Talking About 'Coyotes' During the Debate?

"These children are brought here by coyotes and lots of bad people, cartels, and they used to use them to get into our country," President Donald Trump said during Thursday night's debate with Joe Biden. This came in response to a question from moderator Kristen Welker about the more than 500 children whose parents still cannot be found after their families were separated at the U.S. border. Trump's remarks had social media wondering if the president was saying that children were being brought into the country by actual coyotes—as in the raggedy-looking, predatory canines.

The short answer: He wasn't.

coyote joggers Marines Camp Lejeune North Carolina
A North American coyote--not a human child smuggler. Harry Collins/Getty

"Coyote" is actually a common term used for human smugglers along the U.S.-Mexico border. Here's a clip from the debate when Trump mentioned the "coyotes."

Pressed repeatedly on how the U.S. will locate the parents of more than 500 children who were separated from their families, President Trump touts “stronger borders” and the wall, then claims he’s “trying very hard” to reunite them. https://t.co/HR9MFfjFDv #Debates2020 pic.twitter.com/KKYsJ4dFWR

— ABC News (@ABC) October 23, 2020

Among the people who apparently thought Trump believes that it's animals sneaking children illegally into the U.S.? Minority Caucus Chief Deputy Whip of the Georgia House of Representatives, Dar'shun Kendrick.

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

To give some ammo to their arguments, a lot of Trump's followers retweeted one user's informal (and brief) attempt at tracking some of the "coyote" mentions online.

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

The president's son posted an article from The Federalist explaining the term's meaning in this context; the same piece was shared by many other Trump supporters on Twitter.

If You Don't Know 'Coyotes' Are Smugglers, Shut Up About The Border https://t.co/KAPcuMVb39

— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) October 23, 2020

Dana Loesch, a former spokesperson for the NRA, is no stranger to inflammatory rhetoric. She certainly didn't shy away from saying she was "absolutely amazed at the stupidity" of people who didn't know "coyotes" was a term for smugglers.

I’m absolutely amazed at the stupidity of these people. I’ve been to the border and both USBP and immigrants themselves call illegal smugglers “coyotes” and have for years. People who don’t know this term don’t know enough to join the public discussion on immigration. https://t.co/Xs4hHOZKR1

— Dana Loesch (@DLoesch) October 23, 2020

Actor and fervent Trump supporter James Woods also took the opportunity to insult the intelligence of those not familiar with the use of the word.

“The term “coyote” apparently made many people think Trump was referring to the animal, or even Wile E.” // Uh, no. If you had an IQ of 11, then you might think that... https://t.co/YQiT0EiHVj

— James Woods (@RealJamesWoods) October 23, 2020

Even some of the people who knew what the term referred to still found its usage offensive, such as activist 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

Controversial TV host Bill Maher had a little fun with the word choice, too.

They should at least unite the kids with their coyotes.

— Bill Maher (@billmaher) October 23, 2020

Some photos were shared around by many people on Twitter from both sides of the political spectrum, featuring photoshopped children riding on coyotes or coyotes carrying babies in a blanket.

What Democrats think Trump meant by coyotes bringing illegal aliens across the border, completely unaware it’s the term for smugglers they pay to help get them here. 😆 #Debates2020 pic.twitter.com/7Li0NXjhD2

— Mark Dice (@MarkDice) October 23, 2020

This isn't the first time that Trump has used the word "coyotes" while referring to smugglers when talking about border security. He's referenced the term several times on Twitter before, including a few from more than a year ago.

A very big Caravan of over 20,000 people started up through Mexico. It has been reduced in size by Mexico but is still coming. Mexico must apprehend the remainder or we will be forced to close that section of the Border & call up the Military. The Coyotes & Cartels have weapons!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 24, 2019