Multiple reporters pressed White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki during Wednesday’s press briefing over the alleged lack of access the media has had to view scenes from the border crisis and to talk with border officials.
Reporters specifically asked why there still have not been any images that have been released from inside the detention facilities where the Biden administration is keeping thousands of children. Multiple reporters also expressed frustration that, under the Biden administration, border agents allegedly “can’t do ride-alongs” and can’t “answer questions about what’s happening inside.”
Below are some of the interactions that Psaki had with reporters and video of the exchanges:
REPORTER: A question about the situation on the border. It’s now been three weeks since I think in this room, you were first asked about getting us some press access. Why [have] we still not [seen] any images inside these facilities?
PSAKI: We remain committed to doing that, and I think these facilities are overseeing — HHS, of course, oversees the shelters. The DHS oversees the border patrol facilities, and we want to work with them to ensure we can do it, respecting the privacy and obviously the health protocols required by COVID.
REPORTER: But even given COVID protocols, and obviously privacy concerns, even you all haven’t released any images that you obviously could redact if you wanted to.
PSAKI: 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 and improving and expediting the timeline, and the treatment of these children. 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.
REPORTER: [One more] question on this. We’re hearing from border agents that they’re frustrated that they can’t show us what’s actually happening along the border. They can’t do ride-alongs. They can’t answer questions about what’s happening inside. Certainly, it seems like there’s an element of secrecy here. Why?
PSAKI: I certainly wouldn’t characterize it that way. I know there’s border patrol agents quoted in a lot of your stories, and you speak to frequently, and that’s something we support. Obviously, there’s a long tradition of coordinating with Department of Homeland Security. But if our policy is keeping people quiet, we are not successful, and it is not our policy to prevent people from talking.
REPORTER: Just on one other topic. I wonder if you can explain a little bit the IRS’s decision to delay the tax filing deadline by a month. What’s the hope of the impact of this?
PSAKI: Sure. I know we’ve seen some of those reports. I don’t believe it’s been confirmed or finalized quite yet, so I will let the IRS make their final decisions, and then if that is what moves forward, we’re happy to speak to it. Go ahead.
REPORTER: Thank you, Jen. I just kinda want to pick up on [inaudible] questioning over there. Is The White House or DHS instructing border agents to refuse ride-along requests from reporters? Because that’s what a lot of our folks on the ground are hearing.
PSAKI: Again, I think we’ve seen, watching a number of the reports you all do, a number of border patrol officials who are quoted in them who appear in them. Certainly, from The White House, we support that. It’s coordinated through the Department of Homeland Security. I’d point you to them for any additional questions about the logistics of press access.
REPORTER: Our reporters used to be able to get ride-alongs during the Trump administration, and you all came in and promised to be the most truthful and transparent administration, and you all oversee the Department of Homeland Security. So if you all wanted to grant access to the press, couldn’t you just tell the DHS to do it?
PSAKI: Again, we fully support transparency. I would encourage you to talk to the Department of Homeland Security about any requests you have for press access, or what you’re looking to accomplish at the border. Go ahead.
REPORTER: One more question. One of the biggest criticisms of the Trump administration’s Remain in Mexico policy was that it overwhelmed all these border towns in Mexico and created pretty dangerous living conditions for these migrants, and so now you have the exact same thing happening, even though you all have reversed, rescinded that policy, these border towns are overwhelmed and the President is saying, “Do not come.” So how is the situation on the ground in Mexico any different?
PSAKI: Well, the situation on the ground is certainly challenging, in part because we inherited a dismantled system that wasn’t prepared for processing asylum requests that had left in place, the Remain in Mexico program where people were in a camp that did not have the conditions that we felt-
REPORTER: But there are new camps popping up.
PSAKI: Well, I think what I’m conveying to you is that we are less than 60 days, about 60 days in. We are working to repair what has been an unprepared and dismantled system. It’s going to take some time. Our policy is that we’re obviously going to continue to make sure we’re working through our laws and the border is not open. But we also, as you know, have changed our policy to approach it in a more humane way and keep kids safe. That requires putting in place more effective and efficient processing at the border. It’s going to take some time. We’re working through it. Every day, we have a new steps and new improvements we’re taking to make the system more efficient and effective.
REPORTER: Is there a limit or a cap to the number of unaccompanied minors that are going to be allowed into the U.S.?
PSAKI: A limit or a cap? So should we send some kids who are 10 back at a certain point? Is that what you’re asking me?
REPORTER: I’m not setting the policy here. I’m just asking you what the Biden administration’s policy is. Is there a limit to the number of children that will be allowed in — the numbers we’re hearing now, 565 on average every day? I’m just curious what the end game is here? How many ultimately, would be allowed in?
PSAKI: Well, I think where we are is we’re focused on some of the very specific numbers. So when we came into office, there existed about 13,000 permanent beds in HHS [inaudible] influx shelter system facilities during the last administration. Thousands of these beds, approximately half, were taken offline due to COVID. Staffing was also reduced to put it on par with the new reduced capacity. This was sufficient for the prior administration. This is how we got here, because they were expelling children in addition to families and single adults. We decided, as you all know, that we will be more humane about how we approach this. There was an operational capacity built.
The prior administration also did not consider that there were other mitigation efforts like masking, improved ventilation, cohorting, and other measures that would contain the spread of COVID. There’s now revised CDC guidance, which means there’s greater capacity in these facilities where we can expedite children, expedite getting children into them. We are taking steps to ensure that when kids come to the border, we look and see if they have a phone number in their pocket, so we can call the family member and get them to those family members as quickly as possible. These are the steps that we’re taking at this point in time. Our policy continues to be, we’re not going to send a ten-year-old back across the border. That was the policy of the last administration. That’s not our policy here.