The Slatest

GOP Congressman Says if Children Don’t Like Their Desert Detention Camps They Should Just Leave and Go Wherever

Burgess, seated, gestures at a photo.
Rep. Michael Burgess on Capitol Hill.
Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images

In recent days, reports have emerged of deplorable and unsafe conditions at a Border Patrol facility in Texas for migrant children who’ve been separated from their families. When the New Yorker’s Isaac Chotiner interviewed one of the lawyers who conducted monitoring interviews at the facility, for example, she described guards leaving very young children in the care of other children:

The children told us that nobody’s taking care of them, so that basically the older children are trying to take care of the younger children. The guards are asking the younger children or the older children, “Who wants to take care of this little boy? Who wants to take of this little girl?” and they’ll bring in a two-year-old, a three-year-old, a four-year-old. And then the littlest kids are expected to be taken care of by the older kids, but then some of the oldest children lose interest in it, and little children get handed off to other children. And sometimes we hear about the littlest children being alone by themselves on the floor.

Some children are suffering from an outbreak of influenza, the monitor said, and many are being forced to sleep on concrete without blankets.

Good news, though! According to Texas Republican Rep. Michael Burgess’ Monday interview with MSNBC’s Chris Hayes*, if children in border facilities don’t like getting the flu and sleeping on cement, they can just go somewhere else! Per Burgess:

You know what? There’s not a lock on the door. Any child is free to leave at any time, but they don’t. You know why? Because they are well taken care of.

For what it’s worth, Burgess was speaking specifically about a different child detention facility that he’d visited in Brownsville, Texas—but, also for what it’s worth, other reports have said that the facility he referred to (which houses boys as young as 10) does have locks, that when children have left similar compounds they’ve done so by climbing over fences, and that when they do so law enforcement authorities are alerted. Also, as far as respecting children’s wishes, the reason they’re in U.S. government custody in the first place is that they were involuntarily separated them from their parents or relatives. (You can see an explanation here of why some family separations are still happening.) They didn’t just wander into Texas and ask for a spot in the nearest lice-ridden nightmare cage.

Also, they are children. They can’t drive and they don’t have money, so where would they go? That was a dumb thing to say, Michael Burgess!

Correction, June 25, 2019: This piece initially misstate the day of Burgess’ interview. It was on Monday, not Tuesday.