White House press secretary Jen Psaki responded to photos that were leaked from Border Patrol facilities that appear to show throngs of unaccompanied children being held in crowded conditions.
“These photos show what we have long been saying, which is these Border Patrol facilities are not places made for children,” she told reporters at the White House on Monday. “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.”
Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) released several photos to the media from a facility in Donna, Texas, showing children being kept in wall-to-wall conditions. Watchdog group Project Veritas also released photos from the same facility.
Cuellar, whose office first shared the photos with Axios, told the news outlet that one “pod” held more than 400 unaccompanied male minors. The pods are supposed to hold a maximum of 260 people, he said, and now provide “terrible conditions for the children,” while saying these children should be moved to be housed and cared for by the Department of Health and Human Services.
“They are separated by age or physical size depending on [the] room,” the source of the images told Project Veritas. “Fifty were COVID positive in these cells over the last few days. There have been multiple sexual assaults, normal assaults, and daily medical emergencies.”
Over the weekend, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas visited areas along the border, but his office restricted media access. A number of news outlets have said that their journalists and photographers have been denied access, putting more pressure on the Biden administration to address the situation as a “crisis.”
Psaki on Monday pushed back against using the “crisis” term.
“Children presenting themselves at our border who are fleeing violence, who are fleeing prosecution, terrible situations, is not a crisis,” she told reporters. “We feel it is our responsibility to humanely approach this circumstance.”
In recent days, President Biden, Mayorkas, and other officials called on would-be illegal immigrants to stay put as the border is “not open.”
Psaki repeated that assertion, telling reporters that the majority of people who show up at the border are being turned away.
Meanwhile, Mayorkas gave interviews to several news outlets Sunday and laid the blame at the feet of the previous administration for the surge at the border. But Republican lawmakers have said it is Biden’s policies and rhetoric that triggered it.