A group of Republican senators on March 26 visited the Rio Grande Valley—the busiest corridor for illegal crossings—and toured a holding facility, releasing graphic images of children packed into what Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) called "cages."
The Texas Republican described the scene as "footage of the Biden Cages" and blamed President Joe Biden for the increasing number of illegal immigrants coming into the country.
At the presser, Cruz said that the Biden administration hasn't allowed media inside the Donna facility.
"We requested that media accompany us in the facility. The Biden administration said no," Cruz said.
He later shared a series of graphic images from Donna, writing on Twitter that "these are the pictures the Biden administration doesn't want the American people to see."
The Biden administration has sought to control media depictions of how people in U.S. custody are being treated, and how that compares to what was done in the Trump years. News organizations say they have repeatedly sought access to holding facilities and been blocked.
Biden has pointed to the need to establish safeguards for COVID-19 transmission and protecting the privacy of children as they work to set up their system for processing immigrants.
Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), one of the senators who were part of the 19-strong congressional delegation visiting the border area, shared photos and footage of illegal immigrants being housed under a bridge, saying that the situation is even worse than he expected.
"Sadly it's worse than imagined, to the point where CBP has been forced to house migrants under a bridge," he wrote in a tweet.
Biden, at the March 25 press conference, sought to portray the border surge as a seasonal spike and not, as critics have said, a result of decisions such as halting construction of border wall projects started under former President Donald Trump, or his support for immigration reform that would, if it clears the divided Senate, give a pathway to citizenship for millions of people living in the United States illegally.
“It happens every year,” Biden said of the surge in illegal border crossings. “Does anybody suggest that there was a 31 percent increase under Trump because he was a nice guy and he was doing good things at the border? That’s not the reason they’re coming.
“It’s because of earthquakes, floods. It’s because of lack of food. It’s because of gang violence. It’s because of a whole range of things."
A reporter at the press conference asked Biden about the children detained at the facility in Donna, saying it's at over 1,500 percent capacity, filled mostly with unaccompanied minors.
"There are kids that are sleeping on floors. They are packed into these pods. I’ve spoken to lawyers who say that they—some of these children have not seen the sun in days," the reporter asked. "What is your reaction to these images that have come out from that particular facility?"
"That is totally unacceptable," Biden said, adding that there are plans "to be moving a thousand of those kids out quickly."
Tillis, in a separate tweet, shared a photo of young children housed inside the Donna facility, adding the caption "Here are babies handed over by smugglers. Babies."
Biden said that his administration is continuing to quickly expel most adults and families under a public health order imposed at the start of the COVID-19 outbreak. The difference is that the government is allowing teens and children, at least temporarily, to stay in the country.
The situation along the U.S.–Mexico border has become an early challenge for the administration, drawing more questions than any other subject at the press conference.