Photojournalist: The Biden policy keeping photographers from covering the border crisis is unprecedented

As Ed pointed out this morning, we finally have some photos of the kids being held in CBP detention centers. Even Democratic Senators are saying he Biden administration needs to do better about allowing journalists access to these locations. This afternoon the Washington Post published a piece by photojournalist John Moore. Moore has covered border patrol activities during the last four administrations but suddenly under the Biden administration his only option to cover what is happening comes from the Mexican side of the border:

For the past four presidential administrations, I have accompanied U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents and photographed their encounters with migrants as they enforced immigration policy. No longer. Last week, when I documented migrant detentions in El Paso, I had to do so from the Mexican side of the border, taking long-range shots. Until now, journalists haven’t had to stand in another country to cover what is happening in the United States.

Most asylum seekers cross the Rio Grande into South Texas on land controlled by federal agents. For decades, the U.S. government has let journalists accompany Border Patrol agents and other officials as they surveil the land. But since the change in administration, those agents have been physically blocking journalists from the riverbank. For example, after being turned down for official access on a trip in February, I followed a Border Patrol transport bus in my own vehicle to where agents were detaining migrants. They stopped me before I got close enough to take pictures. They called a supervisor, and ordered me to leave immediately.

We have gone from the Trump-era “zero tolerance” policy toward immigrants to a Biden-era “zero access” policy for journalists covering immigration. This development is unprecedented in modern history.

You probably remember one photo that Moore took back in 2018. It showed a little girl from Honduras crying as her mother was searched by the border patrol. Many who saw it wrongly assumed the girl was crying because she was being separated from her parents. In fact, the border patrol agent, the mother, and photographer John Moore all say that wasn’t the case. This was just a little girl who was tired (it was 11pm) and thirsty and when her mother put her down for two minutes while border patrol searched her, the girl cried. Nevertheless, the photo later wound up on the cover of Time magazine and became symbolically associated with the policy.

Today Moore writes that even when the Trump administration was taking a major hit from his photos, they didn’t try to prevent journalists from riding along with the CBP. “The image caused a public-relations crisis for the Trump administration, but still, officials did not deny me access during subsequent trips to the border.” The number of kids showing up now is worse than it was then, but the Biden administration isn’t allowing journalists to record it in real time.

According to Border Patrol data, agents made more than 10,000 apprehensions in Texas’s Rio Grande Valley last week alone. Yet one of the busiest weeks they’ve experienced in recent years went unobserved by the public.

Moore concludes, “The Biden administration should end its unjustifiable policy of restricting us.” There are probably a lot more crying children in the desert this month but the Biden administration is taking unprecedented steps to make sure the media never gets photos of those kids. The photos we have this morning were leaked by a House member who was allowed to tour the facility.

If this had happened under the Trump administration it would be a major scandal by itself. There’s no justification for this, not even the pandemic. The CBP can ask professional journalists to sign waivers if necessary, but journalists shouldn’t be prevented from covering this mounting crisis by an administration looking to hide the reality from the public.

Here’s a CBS report about the photo of the Honduran girl: