WASHINGTON, D.C. — President Joe Biden’s administration has tried for weeks to keep the public from seeing images like those released Monday of immigrant children in U.S. custody at the border sleeping on mats under foil blankets, separated in groups by plastic partitions.
Administration officials have steadfastly refused to call the detention of more than 15,000 children in U.S. custody, or the conditions they’re living under, a crisis. But they have stymied most efforts by outsiders to decide for themselves.
Officials barred nonprofit lawyers who conduct oversight from entering a Border Patrol tent where thousands of children and teenagers are detained. And federal agencies have refused or ignored dozens of requests from the media for access to detention sites. Such access was granted several times by the administration of President Donald Trump, whose restrictive immigration approach Biden vowed to reverse.
Biden faces growing criticism for the apparent secrecy at the border, including from fellow Democrats.
Customs and Border Protection said more than 100,000 migrants crossed the border in February, and child migrants in custody have increased to record numbers, according to ABC News. Limited videos released by the Biden administration from border facilities show crowded rooms with children sleeping on floors. Rep. Henry Culler (D-Tex.) called the scenes “disturbing.”
Former acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf says the Trump administration warned President Joe Biden that rolling back border protection efforts would result in more problems at the southern border.
“There is no consequence anymore,” Wolf told NPR. “The administration is treating this as though it’s a capacity issue and not an illegal behavior issue; and that’s a fundamental difference.”
Wolf said his team consulted with the Biden transition team and told them that the consequence of removing the Trump programs to deter illegal immigration during the pandemic would be an uptick in illegal immigration.
The migrant surge began after Biden eliminated several Trump immigration policies, including the “Remain-in-Mexico” policy. Biden also reinstated the Obama-era “catch-and-release” policy and stopped construction of the border wall.
On Sunday, Biden appeared to reverse course on the Remain-in-Mexico policy, telling reporters who asked about his plans for border security that he would “reestablish what existed before, which is they can stay in place and make their case from their home country.” Biden also said he would visit the border “at some point.”
Biden has not allowed significant media access to border facilities since his inauguration. In a letter to the White House, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) called the lack of media access “outrageous and hypocritical.”
“As part of our oversight duties as senators, I and 14 of my colleagues will travel to the border this week to talk to the brave men and women on the ground who are working every today to stop this crisis and secure our border,” said Cruz. “But it is not enough for members of the Senate to see what is happening — the American people must see. That is why I requested that members of the media be allowed to join us. But your administration clearly and emphatically refused to offer press access.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.