WASHINGTON – U.S. Customs and Border Patrol Protection has released new videos of immigrant children in custody at Texas processing centers.
The videos — released after images from Monday showed children sleeping on mats under foil blankets — show the intake areas, living quarters and storage rooms of processing centers in El Paso and Donna, which is located in the Rio Grande Valley.
Footage from Donna also shows children separated into groups by plastic partitions.
The Associated Press reported that President Joe Biden’s administration has tried for weeks to keep the public from seeing images of the centers.
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.
CBP officials on Tuesday said that agents are continuing to transfer unaccompanied minors to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services “as quickly and efficiently as possible.”
“In order to protect the health and safety of our workforce and those in our care we continue to discourage external visitors in our facilities; however, CBP is working to balance the need for public transparency and accountability,” the CBP said in a statement Tuesday.
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.
The new president faces growing criticism for the apparent secrecy at the border, including from fellow Democrats.
Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, said Monday “the administration has a commitment to transparency to make sure that the news media gets the chance to report on every aspect of what’s happening at the border.”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki added that the White House was working with homeland security officials and the Health and Human Services Department to “finalize details” and that she hoped to have an update in the “coming days.”
Axios on Monday first published a series of photos taken inside the largest Border Patrol detention center, a sprawling tent facility in the South Texas city of Donna. The photos were released by Rep. Henry Cuellar, a Texas Democrat from the border city of Laredo.
Cuellar said he released the photos in part because the administration has refused media access to the Donna tent. He said he also wanted to draw attention to the extreme challenges that border agents face in watching so many children, sometimes for a week or longer despite the Border Patrol’s three-day limit on detaining minors.
“We ought to take care of those kids like they’re our own kids,” Cuellar said.
Thomas Saenz, president of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said the U.S. should allow media access to border facilities while respecting the privacy of immigrants detained inside. He noted the risk of sharing without permission images of children who have already faced trauma.
“We ought to be aware of these conditions,” Saenz said. “People have to see them so that they can assess the inhumanity and hopefully embark on more humane policies.”
The White House has prided itself on the methodical rollout of its policy during its first 50-plus days but West Wing aides privately acknowledge they were caught off guard by the surge of migrants at the border and the resulting media furor.
Republican lawmakers largely sat out the debate over the administration’s $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill. While none of them voted for the package, their opposition was muted and they instead focused on culture war issues, like the debate over racial stereotypes in some Dr. Seuss books, rather than a bill that was broadly popular with GOP voters.
But the GOP has grabbed onto the border situation with both hands, reviving the issue that was key to propelling Trump to the top of the Republican field in 2016. In 2018, the Trump administration detained hundreds of children in many of the same facilities being used now after separating them from their parents. The following year, hundreds of families and children detained at one West Texas border station went days without adequate food, water or soap.
Biden has kept in place a Trump-era public health order and expelled thousands of immigrant adults and families, but he declined to expel immigrant children without a parent after a federal appeals court in January cleared the way for him to do so. He also moved to speed up the reunification of hundreds of separated immigrant families.