Biden Administration Blocks Media Access Inside Migrant Detention Facilities, Provides Edited Videos Of Orderly Scenes

Biden Administration Blocks Media Access Inside Migrant Detention Facilities, Provides Edited Videos Of Orderly Scenes

Mona Salama
Mona Salama
|
March 23, 2021

Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has now released its first official photos and B-roll videos from inside two large temporary facilities in Texas where unaccompanied migrant children and families are being held and processed by the Border Patrol, images the Biden Administration has tried to keep in secrecy from letting American public from seeing the surging crisis.

B-roll of temporary processing facilities in Donna, Texas, U.S. CBP Office of Public Affairs - Visual Communications Division       

B-roll of processing facilities in El Paso, Texas, U.S. CBP Office of Public Affairs - Visual Communications Division       

CBP published 44 images from inside its two largest facilities — one in El Paso, Texas, and the other in Donna, Texas. The photos, according to CBP were taken on March 17 and 19 in an effort to "balance the need for public transparency and accountability."

The week-old video finally being released to the media for public viewing, show living conditions inside a processing facility in El Paso, Texas, and a holding facility in Donna, Texas, where unaccompanied children and some migrants families are being held as they await transfer to other federal agencies seeking asylum.

Donna Processing Center in Donna, Texas
(Via Customs and Border Protection)

The government-sanctioned edited 4-minute video from the Donna temporary facility shows children arriving, wear masks as they have their temperatures checked, and receive health scans. It then depicts a crowded but orderly facility, with children packed into enclosures and sleeping on mats on floors, curled up using silver space foil blankets inside clear plastic pods set up to prevent widespread coronavirus transmission. The video also shows the center fully stocked with enough items and food needed such including linens, diapers, food snacks, water, and hand sanitizer.

A nearly three-minute video from inside the facility in El Paso depicts a less-crowded facility but similarly shows children sleeping on mats on the floor and shelves stocked with essential items. A brief portion of the video shows children laughing and playing outdoors at the El Paso center, unlike the Donna site.

Donna Processing Center in Donna, Texas
(Via Customs and Border Protection)

Some of the 44 images show temporary processing setups, where masked border patrol agents officials at computers set up on folding tables behind plastic dividers. Other photos include parts of the center and utilities including laundry facilities, portable bathrooms, and rows of supplies including pallets of bottled water, Nutri-Grain bars, Kool-Aid pouches, and diapers.

The Central Processing Center in El Paso is a permanent facility where up to 1,040 children and families encountered on the border in New Mexico and West Texas are taken and temporarily held. Last week, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and a bipartisan group of senators visited the El Paso facility last Friday. The move comes after the DHS testified during his first House Homeland hearing committee where he pushed back GOP attempts in calling the situation at the border a crisis.

Donna Processing Center in Donna, Texas
(Via Customs and Border Protection)

In a statement last week, Mayorkas revealed that border crossings were on track to be the highest in the coming months than they have in the past 20 years, and Border Patrol facilities are already beyond capacity with a record number of unaccompanied migrants in their facilities. Internal CBP documents show there are currently at 1,556% capacity, with 3,889 migrants held at the Donna facility that is meant to hold a capacity of just 250.

The release of the photos comes as the Biden Administration, despite promising to be transparent, has come under intense scrutiny over imposing a restrictive media blackout at the border detention facilities. NBC News last week reported that CBP officials in an unofficial "gag order" were ordered under the Biden team to deny all media requests for "ride-along" with CBP agents along the southern border along with barring patrol officials from talking to any reporters unless granted Washington approval. The Biden administration fell back on the pandemic excuse to explain the lack of access, promising to provide footage of the conditions.

Donna Processing Center in Donna, Texas
(Via Customs and Border Protection)

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) in a letter sent to the White House Monday slammed the Biden administration of "hiding the truth" from the American people.

"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. This is outrageous and hypocritical," Cruz said in a letter to the White House Monday.

"The press and the American people deserve more than denials and excuses from a podium," Cruz added. "They deserve to see and understand the crisis for themselves with the help of reporters who are free and independent from your administration."

Donna Processing Center in Donna, Texas
(Via Customs and Border Protection)

"CBP continues to transfer unaccompanied minors to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as quickly and efficiently as possible after they are apprehended on the Southwest Border," CBP said in a statement attached with the image files on Tuesday.

"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," CBP added.

Donna Processing Center in Donna, Texas
(Via Customs and Border Protection)

The release of images from the Biden Administration comes a day after Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX) released devasting photos of the same detention center from Donna, Texas that he obtained from an unidentified source.

Cuellar said he did not visit the facility himself or take the photos himself, but described the "terrible conditions for the children," who he said Border patrol agents are "doing the best they can under the circumstances,"  but were "not equipped to care for kids" and "need help from the administration."

Between January and February, the number of migrants unlawfully crossing the border jumped by 28 percent, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) data reported. Rio Grande Valley, which is ground zero for the border crisis, reported for the month of February of 27,913 unaccompanied minors, families, and single adults apprehended, with the numbers expected to double in March.

As of Saturday, CBP reported that about 5,000 unaccompanied minors, out of 15,500 are currently in federal custody.

Donna Processing Center in Donna, Texas
(Via Customs and Border Protection)
Mona Salama

Mona Salama

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