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There’s a five-alarm crisis on the border — and Team Biden imposes a media blackout

“Our entire administration will always be honest and transparent with the good news and the bad. We’ll level with you when we make a mistake. We’ll straight up say what happened.” 

That was President Biden on Jan. 21, a day after being sworn into office.

Today, two months and zero solo press conferences later, the Biden administration is on track to be the least transparent administration in the TV era. Another example of shutting out the press is underway at the U.S.-Mexico border, where said administration has imposed a media blackout on its migrant holding facilities, formerly known as “kids in cages” under the previous administration before the term apparently was retired by most of the media and by Democratic politicians out of courtesy to Team Biden. 

The administration also is restricting the information that the Border Patrol can provide to the press, according to a recent NBC News report.

The crisis at the border – which the administration refuses to call a crisis, despite even Democratic lawmakers in border states calling it just that – is one of the president’s own making. Because it was Candidate Biden who once declared this at a presidential debate during the campaign: “All those people seeking asylum, they deserve to be heard. If you want to flee and you are fleeing oppression, you should come.”

The then-future president also said that migrants seeking asylum should “immediately surge the border” under his presidency.

Even after becoming president, Biden and his team’s message has only exacerbated the issue.

“I can say quite clearly: Don’t come,” President Biden told ABC News last week in a direct rebuke of Candidate Biden. “We’re in the process of getting set up. Don’t leave your town or city or community.”

This limp mixed message was also shared by Biden’s Department of Homeland Security (DHS) secretary, Alejandro Mayorkas, who recently told reporters: “We are not saying don’t come, we’re saying don’t come now.” 

Migrants are overwhelming facilities as a result. One migrant facility in Donna, Texas, was at 729 percent pandemic capacity at the beginning of March alone, while others have done away with the 50 percent capacity rule set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in an effort to reduce spread. Hundreds of migrants have tested positive for COVID at the border, before being released into the general U.S. population. “Some of the boys said that conditions were so overcrowded that they had to take turns sleeping on the floor,” Neha Desai, an attorney who represents migrant youth in U.S. custody, told CBS News.

The Biden administration – the one that would make George Washington blush on the truth and transparency stuff – does not want the public to see these horrific conditions. But information on conditions is increasingly getting into the public domain. Per award-winning Getty photographer John Moore: “I respectfully ask US Customs and Border Protection to stop blocking media access to their border operations. I have photographed CBP under Bush, Obama and Trump but now – zero access is granted to media. These long lens images taken from the Mexican side.”

Gov. Greg Abbott (R-Texas) says drinking water has become unsafe at some migrant facilities, prompting the governor to call the situation a humanitarian crisis. When asked why the media isn’t permitted to tour these facilities, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki added new meaning to President Truman’s famous line, “The buck stops here,” when asked why the press was being barred at the border.

“Why are we still not seeing any images inside these facilities?” one reporter asked Psaki at a press briefing this week. 

“The DHS oversees the Border Patrol facilities, and we want to work with them to ensure we can do, respecting the privacy and obviously the health protocols, required by COVID,” Psaki responded.

The reporter followed by asking why photos haven’t been released from the facilities yet. 

“Again, we remain committed to sharing with all of you data on the number of kids crossing the border, the steps we’re taking, the work we’re doing to open up facilities, our own bar we’re setting for ourselves, improving the and expediting the timeline and the treatment of these children,” Psaki explained in another non-answer before audaciously making this claim: “We remain committed to transparency. I don’t have an update for you on the timeline for access, but it’s certainly something we support.”

Yup. Team Biden is committed to transparency. 

The same team that has kept the president from giving his first formal press conference more than nine weeks after taking office, or six weeks later than his old boss, Barack Obama. 

The same team that hasn’t even scheduled a date for Biden’s address to a joint session of Congress, an address given in February by predecessors Trump, Obama, Bush, Clinton, Bush and Reagan. 

The same team that won’t allow the press to see the five-alarm humanitarian crisis at the border amid a pandemic — because they know it just created what will be the dominant story outside of COVID-19 for the foreseeable future, as the situation continues to deteriorate. 

“If the president were standing here with me today, he would say he works for the American people,” Psaki told the press on Day 1 of the new administration. “I work for him, so I also work for the American people. His objective, and his commitment, is to bring transparency and truth back to government to share the truth, even when it’s hard to hear.”

Nice words. 

Too bad the administration’s deeds don’t remotely match the sentiment. Again. 

Joe Concha is a media and politics columnist for The Hill.

Tags Alejandro Mayorkas Barack Obama Biden border crisis Department of Homeland Security Illegal immigration to the United States Jen Psaki Joe Biden Presidency of Joe Biden Trump administration family separation policy United States Department of Homeland Security

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