A Texas Republican congressman suggested Monday night that migrant children are able to leave a children’s facility in Texas “at any time” but don’t because they’re well cared for.
“There’s not a lock on the door. Any child is free to leave at any time but they don’t,” Rep. Michael Burgess said in an interview with MSNBC. “And you know why? Because they’re well taken care of.”
Burgess was referring to the Casa Padre shelter in Brownsville, Texas, that’s become one of the largest facilities housing unaccompanied migrant children in the United State. The former Walmart superstore houses migrant boys, ages 10 to 17.
Asked if Burgess had additional comment in regard to his comments on MSNBC, the congressman said in a statement that Democrats’ “empty rhetoric has largely contributed to the unprecedented crisis on our southern border that is overwhelming all resources and personnel devoted to caring for migrants.”
The shelter became a lightning rod for criticism last year after Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon, tried to get inside on an unannounced visit and was turned away.
Weeks later, facility officials alerted local law enforcement to a 15-year-old boy — an unaccompanied and undocumented minor — who had left the facility.
“As a licensed child care center, if a child attempts to leave any of our facilities, we cannot restrain them,” Jeff Eller, spokesman for the nonprofit Southwest Key Programs, which runs the facility, told CNN at the time. “We are not a detention center. We talk to them and try to get them to stay. If they leave the property, we call law enforcement.”
When a child does leave, the Office of Refugee Resettlement is notified, a source told CNN at the time.
The congressman’s comments on Monday come after nearly 250 migrant children who were held at a US Customs and Border Protection facility in Clint, Texas, were shifted into the Department of Health and Human Services’ shelter system following reports of poor conditions at the facility.
CNN had reported on a team of doctors, lawyers and advocates warning of what they say are major health and hygiene problems at several CBP facilities in Texas.
They had described conditions, which were first reported by The Associated Press, including where children were taking care of other children, shortage of beds, inadequate clothing and lack of soap.
Burgess said the media reports are not what he’s been seeing at the Office of Refugee Resettlement and CBP facilities he’s visited, though he acknowledged that resources are strained.
“I don’t know if it’s hyperbole,” Burgess told MSNBC. “I know that the hatred for this President is so intense people are liable to say anything. I got to go look for myself and see for myself.”