Last week, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) ignited a firestorm of criticism, from both the left and the right as well as the mainstream media, for calling US immigrant detention centers “concentration camps.”
Republicans tried to cast her comment as demeaning to the memory of the Jewish survivors of the Nazi Holocaust, in keeping with their 2020 campaign strategy of portraying Democrats as anti-Semitic, a cynical strategy that is ridiculous on its face, and highly offensive in its own right.
Even the US Holocaust Memorial Museum denounced “efforts to create analogies between the Holocaust and other events” – a reaction to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s equating border facilities for migrants to concentration camps. US Holocaust museum denounces AOC’s ‘concentration camp’ remarks.
For the record, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was not attempting to create an analogy between the Nazi death camps of the Holocaust, and the treatment of families in ICE detention on the U.S. border. This is a narrow view of the term “concentration camps” throughout history.
Concentration camps existed long before the Nazi death camps, and continued long after the liberation of the Nazi death camps, from the Soviet Union’s Gulag Archipelago, to the killing fields of Cambodia, to the Omarska concentration camp in the Bosnian War in the 1990s, just to name a few. “Concentration camp” does not exclusively refer to the Nazi death camps. It is ridiculous to suggest otherwise. Millions of other people around the world have also been imprisoned in concentration camps, and died in death camps. Their lives have no less meaning or value.
The modern development of “concentration camps” actually began in Cuba during its war for independence from Spain. Concentration Camps Existed Long Before Auschwitz:
[Spain] sent general Valeriano Weyler, nicknamed “the Butcher,” to Cuba. There was little doubt about what the results would be. “If he cannot make successful war upon the insurgents,” wrote The New York Times in 1896, “he can make war upon the unarmed population of Cuba.”
Civilians were forced, on penalty of death, to move into these encampments, and within a year the island held tens of thousands of dead or dying reconcentrados, who were lionized as martyrs in U.S. newspapers. No mass executions were necessary; horrific living conditions and lack of food eventually took the lives of some 150,000 people.
These camps did not rise out of nowhere. Forced labor had existed for centuries around the world, and the parallel institutions of Native American reservations and Spanish missions set the stage for relocating vulnerable residents away from their homes and forcing them to stay elsewhere. But it was not until the technology of barbed wire and automatic weapons that a small guard force could impose mass detention. With that shift, a new institution came into being, and the phrase “concentration camps” entered the world.
Indeed, the United States government’s cruelty towards and mistreatment of Native Americans preceded and was in many respects a model for the Spanish government’s concentration camps in Cuba.
Brett Wilkins has an excellent historical summary of the history that we do not teach in American schools at Common Dreams, A Brief History of US Concentration Camps, from the genocide of Native Americans to their forced marches into prison camps and eventually reservations; to our use of similar tactics as Spain in the Philippines after the Spanish-American war; to the imprisonment of German nationals and German-Americans during both World Wars (and a smaller number of Italians and Italian-Americans during World War II), and the imprisonment of Japanese nationals and Japanese-Americans during World War II (photo); to the Strategic Hamlet Program in Vietnam during the Vietnam war; to Guantanamo and “black site” prisoner of war camps in the “war on terror” since 9/11.
As Brett Wilkins says, “Now it’s the migrants’ turn. And despite the howling protestations of those who commit or justify the crime of tearing infants and children from their parents’ arms and imprisoning them in freezing cages that Trump officials have euphemistically compared to “summer camp,” there is no doubt that concentration camps are in operation on US soil once again.”
The Salt Lake City Tribune published an editorial opinion on Sunday which should be reprinted in the editorial pages of every newspaper in the country. Tribune Editorial: Yes, we do have concentration camps:
Yes, we do have concentration camps.
They are not work camps. They are not death camps. At least, not on purpose. Our government is not building massive gas chambers and industrial crematoria. It is not conducting sick medical experiments on members of an unfavored class.
But that does not mean that the places into which we are herding tens of thousands of migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers are not properly called concentration camps. Because that is precisely what they are.
When some in the public eye dare to tell that truth, as the media-savvy Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez did the other day, enablers of the administration’s cruel policies cry foul. They say that using correct terms such as “concentration camps” — or, worse, invoking the term “Never again” — unfairly equates what is going on now at our southern border with the Nazis’ “Final Solution” — the deliberate murder of millions of people.
It is true that we are not doing that. We are doing this. The two are not morally equivalent. And we probably don’t have reason to fear that this is necessarily going to become that.
But, then, we never do.
Because that starts as this. Some of the people who study, and some of the people who survived or are descended from survivors of the Holocaust, are pointing out that that crime against humanity did not arrive overnight.
It worked its way up, from nasty political speeches (check) to politicians seeking and gaining power with promises to protect the purity of the nation from foreign invasion (check) to denying basic human rights and decency to people of an unfavored class (check).
The same warning is being raised by past residents of the internment camps — concentration camps — in which we confined Americans of Japanese origin or descent during the dark days of World War II.
The places where these tempest-tossed humans are being held are kept deliberately uncomfortable and largely out of view of the public, the press, members of Congress and even the courts. The whole point is to keep them beyond the reach of the rights and protections that, by our Constitution and international treaties, are afforded to all persons, not just citizens.
The people being held there are cold, hungry, dirty and often sick. Children are separated from parents. Children are caring for children. Medical care is not to be found. A few — not millions, but a few — have died.
The administration actually told the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals the other day that it is under no obligation to provide refugee children with soap, toothbrushes or anywhere to sleep but cold cement floors in overcrowded cages. They’ve already cut off funding for education, counseling and recreation.
The argument that our government’s failings don’t matter because the migrants have broken the law is legally and morally bankrupt.
People have a moral right to seek a better life, and a legal right to seek asylum. If our border and immigration system isn’t up to the task, that’s not their fault, it is ours.
Federal officials, from the White House on down, work for us, spend our money, act in our name. We hold them to account, not the huddled masses. Complaining that we shouldn’t have to deal with this crisis is like carping that forests shouldn’t burn and rivers shouldn’t rise.
And what are the elected officials from Utah — home of a global church, the welcoming Utah Compact and a population generally decent when it comes to refugees — doing?
Well, Sen. Mitt Romney has a bill to boost the use of the E-Verify system that is supposed to tell employers if job applicants are legally allowed to work in the U.S. Not a bad idea, probably, but kind of like bringing a roll of paper towels to a hurricane.
Good, caring, moral Utahns, and their elected representatives, should be shouting bloody murder over this extended and deliberate abuse of human rights. If nothing else, our separation-of-powers expert, Sen. Mike Lee, should be demanding congressional oversight and authorization of what is and isn’t happening.
Our nation is operating concentration camps for refugee children. We need to stop denying that and decide if we are comfortable with that fact. And how we will explain it to our children.
In the Bush administration’s lead-up to the Iraq war, it was a popular phrase to say “Not in our name.” This seems entirely appropriate today. Cruelty to innocent children in particular is unacceptable under any circumstances. Period. For those supposedly “good Christians” who support Donald Trump’s intentional cruelty to migrants, you should ask yourself “What would Jesus do?” It isn’t this.
And if MAGA “snowflakes” are upset about the accurate use of concentration camps, they are really going to flip over what physician Dolly Lucio Sevier wrote in a medical declaration about these migrant detention facilities: “The conditions within which they are held could be compared to torture facilities.” Doctor compares conditions for unaccompanied children at immigrant holding centers to ‘torture facilities’:
After assessing 39 children under the age of 18, she described conditions for unaccompanied minors at the McAllen facility as including “extreme cold temperatures, lights on 24 hours a day, no adequate access to medical care, basic sanitation, water, or adequate food.”
All the children who were seen showed evidence of trauma, Lucio Sevier reported, and the teens spoke of having no access to hand washing during their entire time in custody. She compared it to being “tantamount to intentionally causing the spread of disease.”
In an interview with ABC News, Lucio Sevier said the facility “felt worse than jail.”
“It just felt, you know, lawless,” she said. “I mean, imagine your own children there. I can’t imagine my child being there and not being broken.”
“To deny parents the ability to wash their infant’s bottles is unconscionable and could be considered intentional mental and emotional abuse,” she wrote.
The U.S. government has removed most of the children from a remote Border Patrol station in Texas following reports that more than 300 children were detained there, caring for each other with inadequate food, water and sanitation.
Just 30 children remained at the station outside El Paso Monday, said Rep. Veronica Escobar after her office was briefed on the situation by an official with Customs and Border Protection.
Attorneys who visited Clint last week said older children were trying to take care of infants and toddlers, The Associated Press first reported Thursday. They described a 4-year-old with matted hair who had gone without a shower for days, and hungry, inconsolable children struggling to soothe one another. Some had been locked for three weeks inside the facility, where 15 children were sick with the flu and another 10 were in medical quarantine.
“How is it possible that you both were unaware of the inhumane conditions for children, especially tender-age children at the Clint Station?” asked Escobar in a letter sent Friday to U.S. Customs and Border Protection acting commissioner John Sanders and U.S. Border Patrol chief Carla Provost.
She asked to be informed by the end of this week what steps they’re taking to end “these humanitarian abuses.”
Although it’s unclear where all the children held at Clint have been moved, Escobar said some were sent to another facility on the north side of El Paso called Border Patrol Station 1. Escobar said it’s a temporary site with roll-out mattresses, showers, medical facilities and air conditioning.
But Clara Long, an attorney who interviewed children at Border Patrol Station 1 last week, said conditions were not necessarily better there.
Customs and Border Protection has referred AP’s questions to the Office of Refugee Resettlement, which said Monday that 249 children who had been held at Clint would be moved to the agency’s network of shelters and other facilities by Tuesday.