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GOP Rep. Michael Burgess says migrant children in one detention center can leave 'at any time'

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 6/25/2019 Nicholas Wu

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WASHINGTON – Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Texas, stoked controversy about the Trump administration's treatment of migrant children when he said Monday that children at one facility were "free to leave at any time." 

Burgess, appearing on MSNBC's "All In With Chris Hayes," discussed with the host the treatment of children at migrant detention centers. 

Burgess cited an Office of Refugee Resettlement facility, a former Walmart, in Brownsville, Texas, as an example of a facility that treats children well. 

“There’s not a lock on the door,” Burgess said. “Any child is free to leave at any time. But they don’t and you know why? Because they’re well taken care of and yes at some point they are going to live with family, generally not mother or father but some family member, that’s a good thing.”

His comments came after reports from a group of lawyers who had toured a Border Patrol facility outside of El Paso, Texas, prompted a backlash after they revealed that migrant children were being held in poor conditions at the site. The children were later moved from that detention site. 

a group of people walking in front of a building © Provided by USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Satellite Information Network, Inc. In a statement to USA TODAY, Burgess said, "The Department of Health and Human Services Office of Refugee Resettlement is nearly out of money to care for the enormous number of children in its custody. Despite the facts, House Democrats have voted 17 times to block humanitarian aid that is desperately needed. This is not only wrong, it’s inhumane.”

More: Migrant children removed from 'inhumane conditions' at overcrowded Texas detention facility

More: Trump's HHS Secretary: Rhetoric about migrant detention is 'outrageous'

Burgess' comments sparked outrage online. Norman Ornstein, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, called Burgess' remarks "monstrous." 

Matt Passet, a producer for Last Week Tonight, quipped at Burgess, "Congress doesn’t have a lock on the door either. You can leave at any time."

The Brownsville facility, known as Casa Padre, is run by a nonprofit called Southwest Key under contract by the Office of Refugee Resettlement, part of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). 

HHS Secretary Alex Acosta defended his department's treatment of migrant children in a Fox News interview on Monday, saying that children received "good, safe, healthy environments." 

The Brownsville Herald reported in October 2018 that the Brownsville facility, Casa Padre, holds about 1,400 migrant children.  

According to Rochelle Garza, one of the court-appointed guardians for the children, the children are held at the facilities in "dorm-type rooms without doors or ceilings and sleep on cots."

“You can hear everything,” she said during a court hearing. 

She explained that the facility is split into four different quadrants, which are divided into subgroups that are named after presidents and house 40 to 70 children.

"They are kind of cramped,” Garza said. “Each quadrant is like its own little city.”

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: GOP Rep. Michael Burgess says migrant children in one detention center can leave 'at any time'

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