The Biden administration is restricting what Border Patrol agents are allowed to share with members of the media amid the ongoing immigration crisis at the souther border, NBC News reported Wednesday. The news, if accurate, is the latest sign that the situation at the border may be far worse than the administration is letting on as it tries to manage unprecedented numbers of migrants surging into the country in anticipation of more lenient treatment from the new president.
Four current and two former Customs and Border Protection officials reportedly told the news outlet that the information sharing limitations — which have been passed down verbally and not through an official memo — are viewed as an unofficial "gag order" within the agency and are often referred to that way among colleagues.
The officials opted to remain anonymous since they are not authorized to speak about the topic to the media. According to NBC News, the limitations go as follows:
Border Patrol officials have been told to deny all media requests for "ride-alongs" with agents along the southern land border; local press officers are instructed to send all information queries, even from local media, to the press office in Washington for approval; and those responsible for cultivating data about the number of migrants in custody have been reminded not to share the information with anyone to prevent leaks.
Earlier this month, news broke that the Biden administration had closed off media access to migrant children housing facilities along the U.S.-Mexico border — conveniently citing coronavirus concerns. In its report, NBC News noted that several media organizations have requested access to or photos inside the facilities, but have been repeatedly denied.
The "gag order" demonstrates that the Biden administration is intent on stymieing public access to information about the crisis to avoid scrutiny. Meanwhile, officials are trying to recast the situation as merely a "difficult" and temporary "challenge" created by the failures of the previous administration.
Yet even with the unofficial restrictions in place, some images of the action on the border have been leaked to the press or to congressional lawmakers. One such example is a video leaked to Democratic Texas Rep. Henry Cuellar's office, in which scores of migrants are shown being transported by raft across the Rio Grande.
Cuellar's office did not disclose who sent the video, but officials speaking with NBC News confirmed it was given to the lawmaker by border agents.
In response to the report about the unofficial restrictions on information sharing, a Department of Homeland Security spokesperson insisted the agency is simply following standards set in 2014.
"Across the federal government, certain employees are designated spokespeople for their respective agencies and public statements are vetted to ensure accuracy. This standard and process has been followed at DHS since the Department's inception and across bipartisan administrations. Customs and Border Protection continues to publicly provide the same monthly data on the same schedule as it has since 2014," the spokesperson said.