The Day – Photos of migrant detention highlight secrecy at Biden border

WASHINGTON (AP) – President Joe Biden’s administration has tried for weeks to block the public from seeing images like the one that appeared on Monday showing immigrant children in US custody at the border sleeping on mats under aluminum covers, separated into groups by plastic partitions.

Administration officials have categorically refused to call the detention of more than 15,000 children in US custody, or the conditions in which they live, a crisis. But they thwarted most of the efforts of foreigners to decide for themselves.

Authorities have banned nonprofit lawyers who keep watch from entering a border patrol tent where thousands of children and adolescents are being held. And federal agencies have refused or ignored dozens of media requests for access to detention sites. Such access has been granted repeatedly by President Donald Trump’s administration, whose restrictive approach Biden has pledged to reverse.

The new president is increasingly criticized for the apparent secrecy at the border, including from his fellow Democrats.

Biden’s National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said on Monday that “the administration is committed to being transparent to ensure that the media have an opportunity to report on all aspects of what is happening. crosses the border “.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki added that the White House was working with homeland security officials and the Department of Health and Human Services to “finalize the details” and that it hoped to have a update in the “next days”.

Axios first posted on Monday a series of photos taken inside the Border Patrol’s largest detention facility, a sprawling tent in the south Texas town of Donna. The photos were posted by Representative Henry Cuellar, a Democrat from Texas from the border town of Laredo.

Cuellar said he released the photos in part because the administration denied media access to the Donna tent. He said he also wanted to draw attention to the extreme challenges border officers face in supervising so many children, sometimes for a week or more, despite the border patrol’s three-day limit for the detention of minors.

“We have to take care of these children as if they were our own children,” Cuellar said.

Thomas Saenz, president of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said the United States should allow media access to border facilities while respecting the privacy of immigrants detained inside. He noted the risk of sharing images of children with previous trauma without permission.

“We have to be aware of these conditions,” Saenz said. “People need to see them so they can assess inhumanity and hopefully embark on more humane policies.”

The White House prides itself on its methodical deployment of politics in its first 50+ days, but West Wing aides privately admit they have been caught off guard by the influx of migrants to the border and the resulting media fury.

Republican lawmakers have largely ignored debate on the administration’s $ 1.9 billion COVID relief bill. While neither of them voted for the package, their opposition was muted and instead they focused on cultural war issues, like the debate over racial stereotypes in some of Dr Seuss’ books, rather than a bill widely popular with GOP voters.

But the GOP grabbed the border situation with both hands, rekindling the problem that was key to propelling Trump to the top of the Republican pack in 2016. In 2018, the Trump administration detained hundreds of children in many cases. from the same establishments. used now after separating them from their parents. The following year, hundreds of families and children held at a West Texas border post went days without sufficient food, water or soap.

Biden kept a Trump-era public health order in place and deported thousands of adult adults and immigrant families, but refused to deport parentless immigrant children after a federal appeals court in January paved the way for him. He also acted to speed up the reunification of hundreds of separated immigrant families.

“What Trump did was horrible,” Cuellar said. “These images show you that even with our best intentions, and the Biden administration has the best intentions, it is still very difficult.”

Cuellar said the White House must work more with Mexico and Central America to prevent people from leaving their countries of origin. The White House said on Monday that key officials will visit Mexico and Guatemala this week.

Senator Chris Murphy, a Democrat from Connecticut who visited a facility in El Paso, Texas last week, told NPR, “We want to make sure the press has access to hold the administration to account.

The Associated Press demanded access to border facilities for more than a month. Reporters first asked health and human services on Feb. 4 to allow entry into a reopened emergency center in Carrizo Springs, Texas, detaining hundreds of teenagers. And they have asked internal security officials to access border patrol facilities at least seven times, without a response. The PA also asked Psaki to open border facilities.

Border agencies under Trump have allowed limited media tours of homeland security and health and social services facilities. Several of these visits revealed troubling conditions inside, including the detention of large numbers of children as young as 5 years separated from their parents.

Under Biden, agencies have also denied full access to nonprofit lawyers who oversee facilities where children are held. These supervisory visits take place as part of a Federal Court settlement.

When lawyers this month visited the border patrol premises in Donna, where thousands of children are now being held, officers refused to let them in and the Justice Department said they did not no right to access it. Lawyers were forced to interview children outside. The Justice Department declined to comment.

New photos released by Cuellar’s office show groups of children crammed inside the partitions. Some seem to be watching TV while others are lying on floor mats, some side by side. Children are shown wearing surgical masks but are close to each other.

Donna’s facility consists of large, interconnected tents. Aerial photos taken by AP show enclosed outdoor spaces where children can go. But lawyers who have interviewed children detained at Donna say some can go days without being allowed out.

The administration is rushing to open up more space to remove around 5,000 children from border patrol detention and place them in health and social services facilities better suited to young people. He also tried to expedite the release of children in HHS custody to parents and other sponsors in the United States. or legal guardian who could take them.

Meanwhile, the administration sees its emergency facilities for immigrant children approaching capacity almost as quickly as it can open them. The downtown Dallas Convention Center has 1,500 teens within a week of opening and is expected to welcome 500 more teens on Monday, according to the HHS. Its current capacity is 2,300 people.


Lemire reported from New York and Merchant reported from Houston.

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