Ranking House Democrat Henry Cuellar said he was compelled to leak images from inside an overcrowded Border Patrol facility in Texas earlier this week to force transparency with the public following the Biden administration’s refusal to allow media inside.
“[It’s] the same reason I gave in 2014 when I released photos: because everything was being kept quiet. If you go back, I gave it to the Houston Chronicle at that time. The reason I did that in 2014 and now: People need to know what’s happening on the border,” Cuellar, vice chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, told the Washington Examiner.
The congressman’s office on Monday shared pictures that were taken by a border official from inside the Border Patrol’s pop-up holding tents in Donna, Texas. The images show cramped rooms where hundreds of children and adults are sleeping, eating, and waiting as they are booked. No media or lawmakers, even Cuellar, have been allowed inside since it was stood up in February.
Cuellar joined White House officials and lawmakers for a tour on Wednesday of a Health and Human Services facility where children without parents are held in Carrizo Springs, Texas, after being transferred from Border Patrol facilities. HHS facilities are designed to house children, and they do not get overcrowded because they can decline transfers from the border. Border Patrol facilities, both now and during previous crises in 2014 and 2019, comprise holding rooms akin to jail cells.
The group met a boy at Carrizo Springs who had been there more than 30 days, while most children are being released to sponsors in the United States after an average of 27 days in HHS care, down from 34 days earlier this year. The administration is pushing to continue decreasing the length of time anyone remains at HHS.
While the Biden administration has opened half a dozen emergency HHS facilities to house the thousands of unaccompanied children coming over the U.S.-Mexico border each week since January, Cuellar said he still does not understand what is being done to quell the flow or what the White House is trying to do in the long term.
“What is the endgame? Nobody can answer that question for me,” he said.
Cuellar supports President Joe Biden, noting that he fundraised for him as a candidate ahead of last year’s election. His concern, one he also had during the Obama and Trump administrations, is that Washington decision-makers are not considering how policies will affect his constituents on the border between Laredo and the Rio Grande Valley.
“Take into consideration the people on the border. That’s all I’m asking. I’m a Democrat. I’m just saying, take us into consideration. Let us help you find a solution because this is not the first rodeo that we’ve been at,” he said. “I was here in 2014. I was here in 2019. Obama. Trump. We’ve seen this before, so we want to be helpful.”