Photos of migrant detention highlight Biden's border secrecy

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This March 20, 2021, photo provided by the Office of Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, shows detainees in a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) temporary overflow facility in Donna, Texas. President Joe Biden's administration faces mounting criticism for refusing to allow outside observers into facilities where it is detaining thousands of immigrant children. (Photo courtesy of the Office of Rep. Henry Cuellar via AP)

WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden's administration has tried for weeks to keep the public from seeing images like those released Monday of immigrant children in U.S. custody at the border sleeping on mats under foil blankets, separated in groups by plastic partitions.

Administration officials have steadfastly refused to call the detention of more than 15,000 children in U.S. custody, or the conditions they're living under, a crisis. But they have stymied most efforts by outsiders to decide for themselves.

Officials barred nonprofit lawyers who conduct oversight from entering a Border Patrol tent where thousands of children and teenagers are detained. And federal agencies have refused or ignored dozens of requests from the media for access to detention sites. Such access was granted several times by the administration of President Donald Trump, whose restrictive immigration approach Biden vowed to reverse.

The new president faces growing criticism for the apparent secrecy at the border, including from fellow Democrats.

Biden's national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, said Monday “the administration has a commitment to transparency to make sure that the news media gets the chance to report on every aspect of what’s happening at the border.”

White House press secretary Jen Psaki added that the White House was working with homeland security officials and the Health and Human Services Department to “finalize details” and that she hoped to have an update in the “coming days.”

Axios on Monday first published a series of photos taken inside the largest Border Patrol detention center, a sprawling tent facility in the South Texas city of Donna. The photos were released by Rep. Henry Cuellar, a Texas Democrat from the border city of Laredo.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which includes the Border Patrol, released its own set of photos and videos on Tuesday from the facilities in Donna and El Paso, Texas. The photos from Donna show some of the same detention areas as in the images released by Cuellar. The agency says it’s “working to balance the need for public transparency and accountability” while still refusing access to most outside visitors.