The Biden government, which is under fire for restricting press access on the southern border because the number of migrants overwhelms the processing facilities, could adjust its much-criticized media policy as early as this week.
“I’m sure the press will have access before the week is up,” said Bennie Thompson, chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, D-Miss., In an interview Monday on MSNBC.
“If not, it’s going to be a problem,” Thompson said.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki pressed on Monday when reporters will be able to tour border fortifications, hinting that changes are imminent.
“We are working on finalizing details and I hope to have an update in the coming days,” said Psaki, adding, “we remain committed to transparency.”
White House spokesman Vedant Patel declined to comment on Thompson’s remarks or provide any further clarification on Psaki’s response, but said, “We will hopefully have updates in the coming days, as Jen mentioned.” Thompson’s office did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for additional comment.
The U.S. border with Mexico has been hit by a wave of incoming migrants, many of whom are unaccompanied children, in the two months since President Joe Biden took office. Biden has taken steps to reverse some of the tough immigration policies put in place by former President Donald Trump’s administration and halt the construction of the border wall.
But the thousands of people who have shown up have reportedly overwhelmed customs and border protection processing facilities, and almost all of them are overloaded. Nearly 16,000 migrant children were in US custody as of Sunday, NBC News reported.
While the Biden administration has blamed Trump-era politics and firmly refused to label the current situation as a crisis, it has also severely restricted media access to border facilities and agents.
CBP officials told NBC that they had been instructed to decline media requests for migrant data and “ridesharing” with border officials. Press inquiries to local spokesmen about the situation will be sent to Washington for approval, NBC reported.
The administration has also denied requests from various news organizations to look at the border processing plants where migrant children are held. Instead, the government has tried to carefully control the images and information coming out of the facilities.
Getty Images photojournalist John Moore took to Twitter to warn CBP “to stop blocking media access to their border operations”.
“I photographed CBP under Bush, Obama and Trump, but now the media are not allowed in,” said Moore. “Transparency is key even in a politicized environment.”
Moore and other journalists have indicated that the Trump administration has allowed the press to tour such facilities, even when it has been heavily criticized for its “zero tolerance” policies, which resulted in the separation of migrant children from their families.
On Sunday, Alejandro Mayorkas, chief of the Homeland Security Department, said the coronavirus pandemic had complicated government operations at the border. He also nudged the Trump administration for resisting pre-established immigration policies.
“There was a system in both the Republican and Democratic governments that was demolished during the Trump administration, and so the challenge is more acute than ever,” Mayorkas told CNN’s State of the Union.
Biden and his top officials have repeatedly urged migrants not to attempt to enter the US, stressing that the border is “closed”.
But the new administration’s more humanitarian rhetoric and recent Democratic urge to pass bipartisan immigration reforms have put the US in a more welcoming light following the Trump administration’s draconian approach.
Biden said on Sunday that he plans to visit the US-Mexico border “sometime”. He told reporters that “a lot more” could be done to convince families to stop trying to cross the border and to allow people to seek asylum from their home countries.
Biden will attend his first solo press conference as president on Thursday.
Meanwhile, even democratic lawmakers have sounded the alarm about the conditions of the facilities where migrants are being held.
“I just left the border control facility. Hundreds of kids in large open spaces,” Senator Chris Murphy, D-Conn. Tweeted on Friday.
“I was fighting tears in one corner when a 13-year-old girl sobbed uncontrollably and explained to a translator how scared she was, separated from her grandmother and without her parents,” Murphy wrote.