The massive influx of migrants over the southern U.S. border recently led President Biden to refer to the situation as a “crisis,” a significant shift for the administration.
Quickly, however, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki walked back the statement. “The President does not feel that children coming to our border seeking refuge from violence, economic hardships, and other dire circumstances is a crisis,” she said.
Despite these denials, the facts remain. Estimates of the sheer number of children in U.S. custody range from 15,000 to well over 20,000. These unaccompanied children include more than 5,000 currently in holding cells.
The government is scrambling to find places to house all of the minors. Several convention centers and extensive facilities are opening along the border and further inland to open emergency housing for children.
But what are the conditions at the border?
According to several current and former border patrol personnel, agents, and sector chiefs, the Biden administration has restricted access by the media to border facilities that are housing migrants.
These border patrol personnel say an unofficial “gag order,” which was relayed to them verbally.
Officials have been told to deny access to the press for ride-alongs. They refuse the opportunity of members of the media to photograph the inside of the overcrowded border facilities where migrant children are currently held. In reaction, some border patrol personnel have taken to releasing images and videos of conditions at the border.
As policy, all information requests are forwarded to the press office in Washington before any information is released to the press or public. According to multiple news agencies who have requested access, such access has been consistently denied.
In contrast, the Trump administration allowed media access in 2018 when the child separation situation was highest. Media were allowed into the facilities where children separated from their parents were held.
According to Psaki, the administration is “committed to transparency.”
The denial of access to media as in-person observers to the scope of the situation means the crisis is receiving heightened attention. Politicians on both sides of the aisle have criticized the administration’s denial of access to the border facilities.