Is there something missing from press coverage of the thousands of unaccompanied children who have illegally crossed the U.S. border from Mexico and are now in the custody of the Biden administration? Yes, there is something missing — pictures.
Descriptions of the conditions in which the children are being held indicate a worsening situation. “Hundreds of immigrant children and teenagers have been detained at a Border Patrol tent facility in packed conditions, with some sleeping on the floor because there aren’t enough mats,” The Associated Press reported recently from Donna, Texas, citing nonprofit lawyers who had interviewed the children but had not been allowed to inspect the facility.
Some of the young people had been held for more than a week — that’s against the law — and had not been allowed to phone parents or relatives. “Despite concerns about coronavirus,” the AP continued, “the children are kept so closely together that they can touch the person next to them, the lawyers said. Some have had to wait five days or more to shower, and there isn’t always soap available, just shampoo, according to the lawyers.”
Another report, in The Washington Post, said that “there have been more than 3,500 unaccompanied teens and children stranded in steel-and-concrete detention cells designed for adults, waiting for shelter beds to open up.”
The descriptions sound bad — and they are bad. But in the world of media and politics, what stirs popular outrage in a story like this is pictures. It’s one thing for Americans to read descriptions of young people in jail cells. It’s another thing for Americans to see photos and videos of young people in jail cells. Remember the uproar over the Trump administration’s so-called “kids in cages” policy? It was stoked by media organizations showing pictures of what was happening.
So now, the Biden White House appears to be determined not to let Americans see what is going on. The administration has not given the press access to the detention facilities. Nor has it given access to the nonprofit lawyers mentioned above, even though the administration is legally required to do so. On the migrant issue, there is a Biden Blackout.
Making things even worse, the Biden White House insists that it “supports transparency” in its handling of the migrant crisis. At Monday’s briefing, a reporter asked spokeswoman Jen Psaki, “What is the status of allowing cameras into some of these facilities? We’ve been asking for weeks about whether or not the press will ever get a chance to see either the Border Patrol or the HHS [Department of Health and Human Services] facilities.”
“We continue to support transparency and — from here, from the White House,” Psaki said. “And [the Department of Homeland Security] oversees some of the facilities. HHS oversees some of the facilities. I know that they’re working through how to provide access in a way that is — abides by COVID protocols and also protects the privacy of people who are being — who are staying in those facilities.”
Psaki was doing the two-step being seen more and more often in the briefings: refusing to answer a question and referring reporters to an agency which won’t answer the question, either. The bottom line is: No matter what it says, the Biden administration will not allow the press to see what is going on.
But it’s not just the press. Those nonprofit lawyers who talked to children who had been held in tents in Donna, Texas, were not allowed to see the facilities, even though they had a legal right to do so. From the AP story:
“A 1997 court settlement known as the Flores agreement sets standards for government detention of immigrant children. Lawyers are entitled under Flores to conduct oversight of child detention. The Justice Department declined to comment ... on why the lawyers were denied access. The Biden administration has not responded to several requests from The Associated Press seeking access to the tent.”
Nonprofit lawyers played a big role in the attacks on the Trump administration’s migrant policy during the “kids in cages” uproar. Now, the Biden administration is making sure they don’t see what is going on. No matter what Psaki says, it’s the opposite of transparency. And sooner or later, through political pressure or a court order or smuggled photos or something, Americans will get a look at what is happening.
This content originally appeared on the Washington Examiner at washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/byron-yorks-daily-memo-bidens-migrant-blackout.
Byron York is chief political correspondent for The Washington Examiner.