North Texas Republican Rep. Michael Burgess on Thursday said the United States should close the border with Mexico, despite the damage that would cause to Texas’ economy, judging the migrant crisis to be more dangerous.
In an interview with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Burgess defended President Donald Trump’s plans to close the border, staking out territory far from Texas Republican Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz who say the move would be catastrophic for the state’s economy. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, one of Trump’s closest allies, warned that closing the border would “dramatically impact” commerce in “Texas, America and Mexico.”
“Closing off the border would be a difficult thing for our state, but our state is faced with a very difficult problem now,” said Burgess in his office on Capitol Hill. “It may be the only way to get people’s attention, nothing else has worked and the problem is compounding literally every single day.”
Burgess also threw his support behind Trump’s plan to direct the State Department to halt all foreign aid to Central American countries where violence is driving thousands to flee and seek entry into the United States. It’s a position that other powerful Texas Republicans have rejected.
“We can’t just say, ‘It’s on you, figure it out and don’t come up here,’ but still, the leaders of those countries need to solve those problems,” Burgess said of the foreign aid cuts. “If our goal is to simply depopulate the Northern Triangle countries, then send a Carnival cruise ship down there and pick them up, don’t make them come across the Mexican desert.”
Burgess’ decision to stand with Trump and apart from other Texas Republicans on these issues reflect political realities in his district.
While other Republicans are gearing up for tough races in suburbs that are showing signs of tilting toward Democrats, Burgess’ district still contains a significant share of rural territory that remains solidly pro-Trump.
“In the district I represent, Trump’s popularity has increased since 2016,” agreed Burgess, who was re-elected with roughly 60 percent of the vote in 2018 and has no plans to move left.
The political dynamics are at play on other issues too. Six of those vulnerable Texas Republicans — GOP Reps. Mike McCaul, Kenny Marchant, Pete Olson, Will Hurd, Roger Williams and John Carter — were among 33 Republicans to join Democrats in voting to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act on Thursday, bucking the wishes of the National Rifle Association, which disapproved of the bill for its expansion of red-flag laws.
“The goal in a district like 26 is to put up a fight, it’s an uphill battle,” said Will Fisher, a lawyer who ran in the Democrat primary to challenge Burgess last cycle but is running in the more Democrat-friendly 24th district this time around.
This week Burgess re-introduced a bill proposing that the U.S. deduct the cost of housing Central American children who are taken into custody after arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border from the amount of foreign aid the U.S. gives to those countries.
“If a child comes from Honduras, stays in one of our facilities for 30 to 60 days… there should be a bill sent to Honduras for that child’s care,” said Burgess, the highest-ranking Republican on the House panel that oversees the Office of Refugee Resettlement. “If they’re not going to take care of their children and we are requiring the American taxpayer to do it, then we should ask for compensation.”
Democrats who control the House say the legislation has no chance of advancing from their chamber, where Burgess has long worked across the aisle on oversight of refugee facilities but grown increasingly at odds with his Democratic colleagues.
In 2014 he worked with Democrats to ensure that children detained coming across the border saw doctors and received vaccinations, but last month was disinvited from a press gathering with Democrats after touring a facility holding child migrants in Florida.
In an interview off the House floor, Rep. Rosa DeLauro, a Democrat from Connecticut who chairs the House panel funding the Department of Health and Human Services and its Office of Refugee Resettlement, scoffed at Burgess’ aid proposal, saying Trump’s immigration policies are to blame for the high number of children in holding facilities.
“Their policies are unsustainable,” said DeLauro. “It’s cruel and it’s child abuse.”
Burgess’s moves could cost him support among some normally-loyal Republicans who are at odds with the president on immigration and the border.
Of the idea of closing the border, Eddie Aldrete, senior vice president of IBC Bank and National Affairs Chairman for the Texas Association of Business said Burgess’ position is “the equivalent of saying I’m going to shut off my own oxygen supply to send a message.”
Aldrete said long lines at the ports of entry are already causing major trade disruptions, and he plans to contact Burgess personally to educate him on the issue.
Burgess brushed off criticism from the traditionally Republican-friendly business community, which he said has become increasingly focused on immigration issues that match their own economic interests.
“When I hear from the business community... they want a bunch more cheap labor,” said Burgess. “Maybe in this economy that’s such a blessing to us all, maybe you should be paying people a little more and hire some people that are supposed to be here.”