(The Center Square) – U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, a Democrat whose district is near the Mexican border, released photos from an overflow tent facility in Donna, Texas, revealing crowded conditions with migrant children sleeping on concrete floors.
He released the photos in response to members of the media complaining that they were being denied access by the Biden administration to view conditions of the facilities housing children who illegally crossed the U.S. border, and after he has called on the administration to halt the policies that have fueled the border crisis.
Cuellar first shared the photos with Axios, saying one pod held more than 400 unaccompanied male minors when their maximum capacity is 260.
After the Biden administration reversed Trump-era immigration policies, nearly 30,000 unaccompanied minors have crossed the U.S.-Mexican border as of the end of February, according to Border Patrol data. The majority have been housed in four federal facilities operating in Texas.
At a White House press briefing Monday, when asked when reporters would be allowed to tour the facilities, Press Secretary Jen Psaki said, "We are working to finalize details and I hope to have an update in the coming days ... We certainly want to make sure the media has access to these sites."
Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas announced that the border was now closed but the minors would not be required to be returned home to their parents.
Customs and Border Protection agents are “doing the best they can under the circumstances,” he told reporters over the weekend, but they are “not equipped to care for kids” and “need help from the administration.”
“We have to stop kids and families from making the dangerous trek across Mexico to come to the United States,” he added. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and many others blame Biden administration policies for fueling the border crisis.
Mayorkas said, “We have to work with Mexico and Central American countries to have them apply for asylum in their countries,” appearing to refer to the previous agreements the U.S. entered into with these countries under the Trump administration, which Biden and Mayorkas halted less than 60 days ago.
Biden also restarted the Obama-era “catch and release” policy, which Abbott says has wreaked havoc on Texas border communities and has helped spread the coronavirus, as roughly 10 percent of those crossing the border illegally test positive for the virus.
Last week, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., told reporters that doctors gave him the 10 percent figure, noting this was before the individuals were being released into surrounding communities.
“When I talk to the doctor to see when they’re being tested for COVID, when they get out, more than 10 percent are testing positive,” McCarthy said. “Well, they’re being stored together. In a time when the president will keep our country closed, when maybe we have hope for a Fourth of July, to get together just with our family, how much spread of COVID is he creating every single day by his policies along this border?”
Over the weekend, Abbott again blasted the Biden administration after it opened a fourth holding facility for minors in Pecos, Texas. Abbott several weeks ago directed state agencies and law enforcement to assess the situations and interview minors to ensure they are not being trafficked. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality is working to ensure that the water at these facilities is safe for consumption. TCEQ staff are also at the Midland facility where water was determined to be unusable for consumption.
"The Biden Administration continues to show that it is dangerously unprepared to handle the surge in illegal border crossings as they rush to open yet another facility for unaccompanied minors in Texas,” Abbott said.
Abbott also says that the Biden administration continues to dodge questions that Texans are asking: “Is the federal government tracking what countries these children are coming from and what COVID-19 variants they might have been exposed to? How long will these children be held in Texas?
“The Biden Administration’s refusal to secure our border, investigate the origins and potential trafficking of unaccompanied minors, and protect these vulnerable children will only worsen the situation and put innocent lives at risk,” Abbott said.
Abbott began Operation Lone Star earlier this month to send law enforcement personnel and resources to high-threat areas along the border. On March 17, he expanded the operation to include anti-human trafficking efforts.
Psaki said the photos “show what we have long been saying, which is these border patrol facilities are not places made for children. They are not places we want children to be staying for an extended period of time. Our alternative is to send children back on this treacherous journey. That is not in our view the right choice to make.
“Children presenting themselves at our border who are fleeing violence, who are fleeing prosecution, terrible situations, is not a crisis,” she added. “We feel it is our responsibility to humanely approach this circumstance.”
Cuellar has been arguing the opposite: there is massive humanitarian crisis at the border created by the Biden administration.
“You just can’t say, ‘Yeah, yeah, let everybody in’ – because then we’re affected down there at the border,” he said, adding, “The bad guys know how to market this.”
In a series of TV interviews on Sunday, prior to closing the border on Monday, Mayorkas said the administration was sticking with its current open borders policy and blamed the Trump administration for the crisis. He told NBC's Meet the Press, “We are expelling families. We are expelling single adults. And we’ve made a decision that we will not expel young, vulnerable children. I think we are executing on our plans.
“We have a short-term plan, a medium-term plan, and a long-term plan, and the president and I have spoken to this repeatedly. Please remember something: That President [Donald] Trump dismantled the orderly, humane, and efficient way of allowing children to make their claims under United States law in their home countries.”