Constitutional Crisis at the Border - Press Blackout
Updated: Mar 22
"Journalists hold those in positions of authority accountable, investigate and document abuses of power, and expose the truth for everyone to see."
-President Biden on World Press Freedom Day, 2020
The Biden Administration now has two crises at the Mexico border. First, the increasing influx of hopeful and unaccompanied children who have made the journey to the border because President Biden has overturned the Trump policy to expel migrant children caught at the border without parents. More recently, a Constitutional crisis has erupted within the United States as the Biden Administration called a press blackout at the border, releasing only pictures controlled and released by the Department of Homeland Security. To date, only one picture has reportedly been released to the press - a picture of a child receiving a health check.
Even more restrictive, media inquiries must be filtered through Washington, D.C. instead of being shared from officials on-site. Historically, officials on location have been able to comment directly to the press, which allowed the people closest to the subject matter to make decisions about what was prudent. The consolidation of power under a single, distant government bureaucracy means that the responses will be vague, uninformed, and overly censored because the depth of expertise is absent from decision making.
According to several news outlets, the ban not only includes the press, it also includes non-profit lawyers who are anxious to investigate the living conditions but have been denied -- which is illegal. According to The Associated Press, "A 1997 court settlement known as the Flores Agreement sets standards for government detention of immigrant children. Lawyers are entitled under Flores to conduct oversight of child detention. The Justice Department declined to comment... on why the lawyers were denied access. The Biden administration has not responded to several requests from The Associated Press seeking access to the tent."
You may or may not have agreed with Trump's immigration policies, or the expulsion of unaccompanied immigrant children. But, even at the height of criticism and scrutiny, Trump was not limiting the freedom of press access to the border facilities. In fact, it was press pictures that so enraged large portions of the American public -- images of children in cages crying and sleeping on the floor. Reportedly, the present situation at the border is far worse with children sleeping on the floor, taking showers only once every five days, and being denied phone calls home to their parents. This is a heart-wrenching way to treat people who so desperately want to be in our country. This is the furthest thing from humane. Perhaps that is why the Biden Administration is limiting access after grandiose campaign promises of a more humane immigration policy.
Even most adult internees held at Guantanamo Bay, many of whom are said to have committed heinous atrocities against Americans, were given advocacy that these children at the border are not receiving. According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, the internees at Guantanamo have living conditions and treatments routinely reviewed and discussed with authorities in charge, and are able to send Red Cross messages as a way to communicate with their families. Miami Herald journalist Ben Fox wrote that, though not without challenges, "Journalists have been able to arrange visits to interview officials at the detention center with relative ease throughout the year. Tours would last about four days, with journalists being able to see the inside of the main camps and the cells in which men are being held."
The First Amendment protects the freedom of the press, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercises thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press..." No matter how uncomfortable, embarrassing, or politically compromising the situation may be, the media provides a set of checks and balances that are vital to keeping the government accountable and transparent to U.S. citizens. Censorship on such a critical issue for the United States is nothing short of tyrannical, and should be a flag for anyone concerned with their own Constitutional freedoms. As Thomas Jefferson said, "Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost."