On Wednesday, NBC News reported the Biden administration has imposed what amounts to a media blackout at the southwest border amid a worsening crisis.
Border Patrol agents, including sector chiefs and press officers, are under an unofficial gag order not to answer questions from the press, according to four current and two former Customs and Border Protection officials who spoke to NBC News on condition of anonymity.
Federal officials along the border, they say, have been verbally instructed—there is no official memo, no paper-trail—to deny all press requests for ride-alongs and refer all media inquiries, even from local reporters, to Washington. Officials responsible for gathering data about the number of illegal immigrants in federal custody, they say, have been told not to share that information with anyone to prevent possible leaks.
The blackout comes as the Biden administration continues to deny there’s a crisis at the border, even as the number of migrant children detained by CBP soars, overwhelming federal facilities ill-equipped to house and care for minors. As of Sunday, CBP had more than 4,200 minors in custody along the border, a record.
The Department of Homeland Security has not conducted any media tours of several hastily opened shelters for minors, included one in Donna, Texas, that was 729 percent over capacity earlier this month. Lawyers who have been inside these facilities and interviewed migrant children housed there report there is not enough food, bed space, or showers. Many of these minors are being held for much longer than allowed under federal law.
This stands in stark contrast to the Trump administration, which gave press access to these facilities during its controversial family separation policy in June 2018. Likewise, CBP routinely approved press requests for ride-alongs with Border Patrol agents during the Trump administration. But there has not been “a single one since January 20,” when Biden was inaugurated, one federal official told NBC News.
The media blackout at the border also stands in stark contrast to the Biden administration’s empty rhetoric about transparency. DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, who continues to deny there is a crisis, earlier this month pledged to be transparent with the media on immigration issues but has since denied media access to migrant processing centers, including embedded reporters with congressional delegations that visited the border this week.
Earlier this week, Mayorkas said the United States is on pace to see the largest number of illegal border crossings in 20 years. In February, Border Patrol arrested nearly 97,000 people along the southwest border, and will likely arrest more than 100,000 in March.
Since reporters aren’t allowed to ask Border Patrol or CBP press officers any questions, one of the only places reporters can get information from federal officials is in White House press briefings, where anyone who does ask a question is denigrated by Press Secretary Jen Psaki.
Fox's Kristin Fisher asked Jen Psaki a basic question if there's "a limit or cap to the number of unaccompanied minors…allowed in," but Psaki went low and personal: "Should we send some kids who are 10 back at a certain point? Is that what you're asking me?" pic.twitter.com/wzyS9OffgJ
— Curtis Houck (@CurtisHouck) March 17, 2021
When Fox’s Kristin Fisher asked Psaki on Wednesday if there was a limit to the number of unaccompanied minors that would be allowed into the country—an entirely fair question, given that on average 565 minors are being apprehended at the border every day—Psaki replied, “Should we send some kids who are 10 back at a certain point? Is that what you’re asking me?”
Biden Is Trying to Hide a Crisis of His Own Making
By every measure, there is a crisis underway at the border—a crisis largely of Biden’s own making, which is why he is trying to suppress information about it. Republicans have frequently pointed to a series of Biden executive orders in January that loosened Trump-era border restrictions and restored Obama-era “catch-and-release” policies. But the foundation for the current crisis was laid long before Biden took office.
During the first Democratic debate—in June 2019, when the last border crisis was in full swing—Biden, in a moment of honesty, said that if he becomes president there should be a “surge to the border,” that “all those people seeking asylum, they deserve to be heard,” and that “if you want to flee and you are fleeing oppression, you should come.”
In the first Democratic primary debate, Biden says when he’s president, illegal immigrants should “immediately surge to the border” pic.twitter.com/Fq1vCNEN75
— Tom Elliott (@tomselliott) March 17, 2021
Well, they heard him, and they’re coming.
In many ways, messaging is policy for the border. So when Biden and every other Democratic candidate pledged during the primaries to open the southwest border and rescind Trump’s strict immigration and asylum policies, the stage was set for a future border crisis.
The Biden campaign’s messaging mirrored some of his first official actions and orders once in office, confirming for many migrants that the time to come north is now, with a Democrat in the White House who had promised leniency and actually said, on a national stage, “You should come.”
It doesn’t matter what Biden says now. It doesn’t matter that this week he told George Stephanopoulos of ABC News, “I can say quite clearly don’t come over,” or that his message to migrants has changed from “you should come” to “don’t leave your town or city or community.” Migrants from Central America to Africa and Asia aren’t listening anymore, they’ve heard enough and are on the move.
In the case of Central Americans seeking asylum, consider the complete naiveté—or dishonesty—of Biden’s remarks to Stephanopoulos. He implored would-be asylum-seekers from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador to wait until the administration has set up a system to hear asylum claims in those countries. “Make your case,” Biden said. “We’ll have people there to determine whether or not you are able to meet the requirement you qualify for asylum. That’s the best way to do this.”
The thing is, the vast majority of asylum claims are ultimately denied, either on procedural grounds or because they otherwise don’t meet the requirements set forth in federal law. Migrants from Central America, who make up the overwhelming majority of those illegally crossing the border and seeking asylum, know this.
Or at least many of them do, because their family members and relatives have been through the process, and many have been deported. Their goal, in many cases, isn’t so much to win an asylum case but to initiate the asylum process, which can drag on for months or years, in order to get into the United States and join family members who are already here.
The idea that all these people will wait in their home countries, often under horrible conditions, in hopes of being among the relatively small number of people who are ultimately granted asylum is Pollyannish in the extreme. It is not a real solution to the problem on our southwest border.
It’s becoming increasingly clear, however, that the Biden administration isn’t interested in any real solutions to the border crisis, and even less interested in transparency about what’s happening on the Rio Grande.