Burgess dodges questions on migrant children, gun violence in contentious town hall

Rep. Michael Burgess speaks to a member of the Denton High School color guard after a town hall meeting in the school's theater. (Photo by Leopold Knopp)

In an unruly town hall meeting at Denton High School last night June 18, Rep. Michael Burgess (R- Lewisville) deflected responsibility for the now more than 10,000 migrant children who have been separated from their families at the border and, in one instance, simply refused to answer a question about campaign contributions from the NRA.

Only allowed one hour at the venue, Burgess kept his comments to a minimum to allow as much time for questions as possible. Many of them centered on the zero tolerance policy that has lead to the separation of families crossing the border seeking asylum, which was instituted by the Trump administration in early May. At various points, Burgess deflected blame for the situation to other countries, the previous administration and even the constituents themselves for not being outraged sooner, leading crowd members to shout “What are you going to do?”

“If their parents follow the law, they will not be separated,” Burgess said to one resident.

The crowd was generally displeased with Burgess’ responses, and would regularly drown him out if he said something they disagreed with. Present near the front row were Denton County’s handmaidens, part of a statewide group that attends political events in costume from the Hulu series “A Handmaid’s Tale” to protest the lack of access to abortions in the state.

Attendees pleaded with Burgess to do something to put the children in a better situation.

“When he [President Donald Trump] was put in place, our goal was that elected representatives would take him to task,” Denton resident Gretchen Veling said. “They are not U.S. citizens, but they’re human beings, and we’re scared for them.”

Burgess responded by asking about the leadership in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, which was met with a loud chorus of boos and jeers. The conversation continued with Veling asking whether Burgess agreed that the U.S. needs to take care of the children who were separated from their families, to which Burgess responded, “We are taking care of those children.”

The Trump administration is working to set up a tent city for the migrant children who have been taken into U.S. custody. From what’s been revealed publicly, they are currently being kept in chain link enclosures in empty department stores.

Attendees held various signs and cards and some even dressed in costume, almost uniformly in protest of Burgess’ policy. (Photo by Leopold Knopp)

Burgess said that he expected action to be taken in congress next week and that he had a meeting with the president the next afternoon, but only went into specifics in a small press conference after the meeting. He said the specific bill that will be discussed involves $25 billion in federal funding for the wall along the southern border that was a key point of the Trump campaign platform, as well as ending the family visa system and the visa lottery.

All of the points Burgess described as being part of this bill were main points of the Trump platform. The Washington Post has reported that an anonymous White House source described the policy as a tool to “force people to the table” to negotiate immigration policy.

During the town hall meeting, Burgess repeatedly said the children of asylum-seekers were not being separated from their parents. This is not true. Families petitioning for asylum at the border have been separated, and news broke yesterday that family separation was discussed as a measure explicitly to deter asylum-seekers as far back as last year.

In the wake of the Santa Fe school shooting, Burgess also faced questions about his acceptance of campaign funds from the NRA. Burgess has an “A” rating with the organization, and has received more than $19,000 in campaign contributions from it over the course of a 17-year political career according to opensecrets.org.

“Americans have buried 400 victims in over 200 school shootings since Sandy Hook, yet your hands take generous campaign donations from the National Rifle Association,” Denton resident Robert Oehlschlager said. “Square your oath as a medical doctor to do no harm with the pain of grieving families after their children are murdered.”

Burgess simply responded, “I disagree.” Oehlschlager asked if he would simply rather run away, and then called him a coward and left the speaking area.

Burgess also fielded questions on healthcare reform, transgender equality and foreign policy, specifically on Trump’s relationships with North Korean and Russian leaders Kim Jong Un and Vladimir Putin.

Full video of the town hall meeting, courtesy Burgess’ Youtube page, is below-

Burgess has represented the 26th district since 2002. He is up for re-election this year running against Democratic newcomer Linsey Fagan.