The ability of news outlets, including The Post, to document the crisis at the US-Mexico border has been severely restricted in recent weeks, despite repeated assurances from the White House that President Biden is committed to “transparency.”
Tens of thousands of Central American migrants — including thousands of unaccompanied children — have flocked to the crossing since Biden took office and repealed former President Donald Trump’s more stringent immigration policies, creating troubling humanitarian and security concerns.
But journalists traveling to cover the chaos have encountered levels of restrictions not seen under prior presidential administrations, Republican or Democratic.
During a ride-along last week with Texas’ Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office, a Post reporter witnessed Border Patrol agents investigate a home thought to be used as a stash house for stolen cars and migrants secreted over the border.
The agents explicitly told The Post not to take photographs of them.
Deputies from the Hidalgo County Constable’s Office later explained that the camera-shy policy was handed down just last month, and that taking photos and videos of Border Patrol operations had not previously been seen as a problem.
“It’s just orders they have also, because I guess they don’t want to admit it’s a crisis going on,” speculated one deputy.
When a Post reporter attempted to visit a detention facility in Donna, Tex. on Saturday — using a walkaway that was not marked with any clearly visible signs stating that the area was off-limits — a security guard rode up on a golf cart and ordered the journalist to leave.
When the reporter then walked onto an adjacent property — also not marked with any clearly-visible signs — where another facility is under construction, the same security guard threatened to call law-enforcement unless the journalist left.
“They don’t want anything leaking out,” the Hidalgo County Constable’s Office deputy said. “But it is already.”
The Post’s experience is part of a larger media blackout effort corroborated by other journalists trying to cover the crisis.
Award-winning Getty Images photographer John Moore has tweeted that the media has been granted “zero access” in recent weeks, noting that conditions are more restrictive under Biden than under former Presidents Trump, Barack Obama and George W. Bush.
The lack of access was so bad, Moore wrote, that he found the easiest way of snapping photos of conditions on the US’ side of the border was crossing onto Mexico’s side and using a telephoto lens.
Fox News host Chris Wallace on Sunday sparred with Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas over press access, with Mayorkas blaming the blackout on a need to maintain social distance amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
And last week, Dan Shelley, executive director of the Radio Television Digital News Association, sent an open letter to Mayorkas demanding better access, noting that a shroud of secrecy only gives a greater platform to potentially biased sources who don’t necessarily prioritize objectivity.
“The lack of information and collaboration from the Border Patrol and Department of Homeland Security has also created a vacuum of sorts that traditionally biased sources are filling with information that serves only their political interests,” wrote Shelley in part. “This dynamic is not conducive to efforts by journalists to communicate unbiased information to the public nor is it constructive to the heated dialogue of elected officials both locally and nationally.
“At a time when the southern border of the United States is undergoing a historic surge of migrants, it is more important than ever that journalists be allowed the necessary access to report accurately and independently on the Border Patrol’s response to the increased arrival of migrants and the wellbeing of those housed in Border Patrol facilities,” Shelley continued.
Through it all, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki has repeatedly maintained that the Biden administration is dedicated to transparency, and assured reporters for weeks that accommodations would be made for press tours of the cramped detention centers where migrant children are held for days at a time while awaiting transfer elsewhere.
“We are working to finalize details, and I hope to have an update in the coming days,” said Psaki during her latest assurance at a Monday afternoon briefing. “We are working through [it] with the Department of Health and Human Services, and also the Department of Homeland Security, to ensure privacy and ensure we’re following COVID protocols.
“We remain committed to transparency,” she continued. “We certainly want to make sure that the media has access to these sites.”