Border crisis: Is the U.S. running ‘concentration camps’?
Trump defenders have spent the week in a familiar state of fake outrage, said Charles Blow in The New York Times, because freshman Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said “the United States is running concentration camps on our southern border.” Leading the charge was Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), who said AOC’s comments “demean” the memory of the 6 million Jews who died in the Holocaust. But Ocasio-Cortez’s description is accurate. Reports have surfaced of horrific conditions in the camps, where the government is punitively penning up nearly 50,000 asylum seekers as if they were animals. Young children sleep on cold concrete floors, beneath glaring lights that never turn off. Migrants have no soap, toothpaste, or toothbrushes, and mothers lack water to wash their babies’ bottles. Sickness is spreading, and at least seven children have died. Some camps are now so overcrowded that detainees stand on toilets to find breathing space. In history, the term “concentration camp” is not unique to Hitler, said Jonathan Katz in the Los Angeles Times. The Spanish, British, and Soviets all penned up millions of people deemed undesirable, and so did the U.S. during World War II, when it imprisoned hundreds of thousands of Japanese-Americans. Over and over again, Trump “has made it clear that he wants to stifle all nonwhite immigration, period.” That’s why it’s appropriate to call these teeming, squalid cages “concentration camps.”
That comparison is a “ridiculous smear at every level,” said Rich Lowry in NationalReview.com. Those detained at the U.S. border are awaiting asylum hearings in a courtroom, not death in a Nazi gas chamber. They weren’t rounded up, but arrived voluntarily, preferring the limbo of detention to the horrors they were fleeing. As for overcrowding, said the New York Post in an editorial, that’s the result of the fact that “100,000 people a month are crossing the U.S.-Mexican border,” not of some Hitler-like policy of Trump’s. Should Trump just release every arriving migrant into the U.S.?
U.S. border camps may never “reach the stage of ultimate atrocity,” said Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg in WashingtonPost.com, but the analogy reminds us of “our own moral obligations” to speak up. In Germany, “the Holocaust began with dehumanizing propaganda, with discriminatory laws, with roundups and deportations, and with internment”—all of which we are witnessing today in America. These racist policies are being pushed by a charismatic demagogue who repeatedly warns his rabid supporters they will be raped and murdered by “sinister, marauding aliens” if he doesn’t stop them, said John McWhorter in TheAtlantic.com. How can anyone contemplate the misery at the border camps and not see “glimmers of likeness between Trump and Messrs. Hitler and Mussolini?”
But the detainees at the border are free to leave, said Vivian Jones in TheFederalist.com. Can Ocasio-Cortez and her defenders identify a single concentration camp in history where those detained could “opt for ‘voluntary departure’ and return to their country of origin at any time?” That, of course, is Trump’s goal, said Eric Levitz in NYMag.com. He is deliberately making life in the camps so hellish that detainees “self-deport” and future asylum seekers are deterred from coming. “The cruelty is the point.” Republicans are offended by the term “concentration camp” not “because it trivializes Hitler’s crimes, but rather, because they wish to trivialize Trump’s.” ■