Journalists and lawmakers across the aisle are increasingly calling out the Biden administration for a lack of press access at border processing centers, a media blackout preventing reporters from covering what the White House has refused to call a crisis, despite firsthand accounts suggesting otherwise. Immigration detention facilities, overcrowded with unaccompanied children amid the surge of migrants at the southwestern border, are reportedly holding some minors longer than legal 72-hour limit, according to Senator Shelley Moore Capito, among the bipartisan group of senators who last week traveled to the U.S.-Mexico border with Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. “I’m very alarmed about the numbers and extremely concerned about the overstay in the facility,” Capito told the Washington Post of a Customs and Border Protection processing center in El Paso, Texas, where she said as many as 100 migrant children who arrived unaccompanied were being held in one large room, raising both policy and public health concerns. “They’ll move 50 out a night [and] have another 100 come in that night,” the West Virginia Republican said. After 72 hours, CBP facilities are required by law to transfer the unaccompanied children and teens in their custody to the care of Health and Human Services.
News organizations, however, are struggling to cover what Capito called “heart-rending” circumstances and overstay due to limited media access to such government facilities. “We want to make sure that the press has access to hold the administration accountable,” Senator Chris Murphy, another lawmakers who went on the trip, said on NPR Saturday, noting that conditions are “better than what we saw in 2019” and “not kids in so-called cages” but nevertheless somewhere “you wouldn’t want your child in for more than 10 minutes,” with kids “sleeping on thin mattresses on the floor” and spaced “about six inches to a foot from each other.” During the interview, Murphy said he believes “there’s a way for DHS to allow some additional press access” into the detention centers, where “right now these kids are staying too long.” A day earlier, the Connecticut Democrat shared his immediate reaction to the trip:
The lawmakers’ calls echo those of journalists highlighting the lack of media access to the border situation amid the increasing surge of migrants, with the Post on Saturday reporting that more than 10,000 unaccompanied migrant children are currently in the care of DHS and 5,000 more are in CBP custody—almost twice the previous record. “The President promised things would be different. Turns out he was right, but in this case not the way we had hoped,” said Dan Shelley, the executive director of the Radio Television Digital News Foundation, in a statement last week, noting that the Trump administration provided the press photos and access to juvenile facilities—albeit, as NBC’s Jacob Soboroff noted, for the purpose of advertising “the cruelty of the separation policy. They wanted everyone to see that.” Regardless, Soboroff continued, “Now it’s the Biden administration’s turn to open the doors.”
Despite the administration’s insistence on being “committed to transparency,” as Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, reiterated in a statement to CNN’s Oliver Darcy on Friday, its apparent reluctance is drawing heightened attention to the situation that the White House is already struggling to get under control—as critics of the president have been quick to capitalize on. “After years of bashing the news media, some Republicans and right-wing media outlets have suddenly morphed into press advocates,” Darcy reported, pointing to Senator Ted Cruz’s tweet calling the lack of press and camera with Mayorkas “outrageous & unacceptable.” On Thursday evening, Fox News’ Sean Hannity chimed in. “They’re now telling Border Patrol agents, no ride-alongs, any media requests send them to Washington,” he said. “That’s not transparent. What competent government—what are they trying to hide?” As the Post’s Erik Wemple put it: “You know things are bad when Hannity doesn’t even need to exaggerate.”
More Great Stories From Vanity Fair
— Andrew Cuomo’s Biographer on the Governor’s Brutish History
— How Officials in Trump’s White House Scrambled to Score COVID-19 Vaccinations
— A Private Jet of Rich Trumpers Wanted to “Stop the Steal”
— Donald Trump Is Drowning in Criminal Investigations and Legally Screwed
— The Wave of Anti-Asian Hate Could Last Beyond the Pandemic
— Could Brett Kavanaugh Be Booted From the Supreme Court?
— Leak of Bombshell CBS Investigation Led to Multimillion-Dollar Settlement
— From the Archive: The Day Before Tragedy
— Not a subscriber? Join Vanity Fair to receive full access to VF.com and the complete online archive now.