Fact check: Viral photo of youth migrant detention center without masks is from 2014

The claim: Photo shows migrant youth detention center without social distancing and masks

The Biden administration opened its first emergency youth migrant center in February to address increased capacity needs caused by the ongoing pandemic. Since then, detention facilities have been the subject of scrutiny.

A recent viral post misrepresents an old photo to claim that the administration’s immigration centers are violating COVID-19 safety protocols.

“Now we can see how we can finally open up schools. Simply call them immigrant youth detention centers, and just-like-that no more 6-foot spacing or mask requirements,” reads the March 22 post. 

However, this image predates the Biden administration by more than six years. 

 USA TODAY reached out to the Facebook user that shared the post for comment.

Migrants are seen in a green area outside of a soft-sided detention center after they were taken into custody while trying enter the U.S., in Donna, Texas on March 19, 2021. The Donna facility consists of large interconnected tents with enclosed outdoor areas where children can go. But lawyers who have interviewed children detained at Donna say some can go days without being allowed outside. (Photo: Julio Cortez, AP)

Photo predates COVID-19

Breitbart Texas published an article containing this image on June 5, 2014. Breitbart reported that it obtained the internal images from U.S. Customs and Border Protection. The children in the photo are not wearing masks or socially distanced because the photo was taken years before the COVID-19 pandemic began.

This comes after Axios published photos on March 22 from inside the largest Border Patrol Detention center, located in Donna, Texas. The photos, which were released by Rep. Henry Cueller, D-Texas, show a tent complex where migrant children were crowded together inside partitions and slept on floor mats under foil blankets. Unlike the 2014 photo, the children can be seen wearing masks. There is crowding, however, it is far less severe than that seen in the 2014 image. 

The Biden administration continues to face backlash for the facility’s conditions and lack of transparency.

This March 20, 2021, photo provided by the office of Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, shows detainees in a Customs and Border Protection temporary overflow facility in Donna, Texas. President Joe Biden's administration faces mounting criticism for refusing to allow outside observers into facilities where it is detaining thousands of immigrant children. (Photo courtesy of the Office of Congressman Henry Cuellar via AP) (Photo: AP)

Our rating: False

We rate the claim that a photo shows a Biden administration migrant youth detention center violating COVID-19 safety measure FALSE because it is not supported by our research. The photo featured in the post was taken more than six years before Biden took office. In 2014, these COVID-19 safety measures, like social distancing and mask-wearing, were not in place. 

Our fact-check sources:

  • The Washington Post, Feb. 22, “First migrant facility for children opens under Biden”
  • Breitbart, June 5, 2014, “Leaked Images Reveal Children Warehoused in Crowded U.S. Cells, Border Patrol Overwhelmed”
  • USA TODAY March 22, “Texas congressman releases photos of children sleeping on mats in Border Patrol facility”

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