Let’s call the “migrant detention facilities” we are operating at the border what they really are, as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has done – concentration camps. The horrors perpetrated by the Nazis in their death camps were an abomination beyond what anyone else has perpetrated before or since, but the Nazis were not the only ones to run concentration camps. The tactic of rounding up and housing people in inadequate conditions based on their race or other identity was also used by Great Britain in the Boer War in South Africa and by the United States with American citizens of Japanese descent during World War II, among many other nations.
Now, we are rounding up and detaining immigrants, including asylum-seekers, in horrible conditions when seeking asylum is actually legal under US law. A Chicago Tribune article on a recent Inspector General report about the border states, “With long-term facilities for adults and children at capacity, President Donald Trump’s administration has said it has to hold people in unsuitable Border Patrol facilities for much longer than the 72 hours normally allowed by law.” This defense is designed to paper over outrages that everyone can see with their own eyes, as if to say, “We’re doing our best.” But these excuses deny the truth of what our government officials are telling us. Stephen Miller, the President’s hardline immigration advisor, said last year that because the Statue of Liberty’s famous poem welcoming refugees was not attached at the time the statue was first erected, it should not inform our understanding of how we provide refuge. And the President has made it clear he wants to remake asylum and immigration laws to dramatically reduce the number of people who can immigrate to this country.
In the context that Miller and Trump describe for us, the squalid and inhumane conditions being created at the border are not the mundane side-effect of an overwhelmed bureaucracy trying to do its job – these conditions are the point. They are designed to scare immigrants away from coming, and they are designed to convince Americans that the people who are coming are themselves dirty and undesirable. We cannot fall into the trap of believing either that this administration is the first to treat immigrants in this way, nor into the trap of believing that what is happening now is acceptable and ordinary. Many of us have not stood up to these abuses to this point, but we must begin now. We must close these concentration camps, maintain our support for asylum-seekers and refugees, and invest in immigrants who choose to come here. We must heed the words of Dr. Martin Luther King regarding the white moderate, “who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice.” It is time for us to abandon moderation – it is time for us to fight back!
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