Dystopia Journal #31: Concentration Camps

Dystopia Journal #31: Concentration Camps June 26, 2019

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The Supreme Court recently upheld a huge cross on public land as constitutional, a decision that heralds dark days for church-state separation in the years to come.

In the past, this would have been the kind of thing I’d devote much angry analysis to; but I find I just can’t get worked up about it. Lately, I care more about the fact that the U.S. government is building concentration camps:

Children as young as 7 and 8, many of them wearing clothes caked with snot and tears, are caring for infants they’ve just met, the lawyers said. Toddlers without diapers are relieving themselves in their pants. Teenage mothers are wearing clothes stained with breast milk.

Most of the young detainees have not been able to shower or wash their clothes since they arrived at the facility, those who visited said.

…At the Border Patrol’s Central Processing Center in McAllen, Tex. — often known as “Ursula” — the lawyers encountered a 17-year-old mother from Guatemala who couldn’t stand because of complications from an emergency C-section, and who was caring for a sick and dirty premature baby.

Other observers report appalling overcrowding: people sleeping outside on the ground, or crammed into cells so overfull that there isn’t room for all of them to sit or lie down:

The IG found “standing room only conditions” at the El Paso Del Norte Processing Center, which has a maximum capacity of 125 migrants. On May 7 and 8, logs indicated that there were “approximately 750 and 900 detainees, respectively.”

“We also observed detainees standing on toilets in the cells to make room and gain breathing space, thus limiting access to the toilets,” the report states. (source)

Even more horrifying, a Justice Department lawyer argued – in court, out loud – that the government shouldn’t be required to give imprisoned children soap, toothbrushes, or beds:

The Trump administration went to court this week to argue that migrant children detained at the United States-Mexico border do not require basic hygiene products like soap and toothbrushes in order to be in held in “safe and sanitary” conditions. Trump’s team also argued that requiring minors to sleep on cold concrete floors in crowded cells with low temperatures similarly fulfilled that requirement. (source)

It’s true that the federal judges were openly incredulous at this inhumanity. Even so, the fact that the Trump administration went to court to argue for this suggests that the mistreatment of refugees isn’t an unfortunate side effect of an logjammed system, but a deliberate policy of cruelty. The intent is to make them suffer so that others are too afraid to come.

By any reasonable standard, this meets the definition of a concentration camp: “any place where large numbers of people are held in poor conditions because of their nationality, ethnicity, religion or other characteristics rather than as individuals convicted of crimes”.

The term isn’t restricted to Nazi Germany’s death camps, but dates back to the 1800s. Spain and the United Kingdom oversaw concentration camps in Cuba and South Africa during the era of colonialism. Russia’s gulags were concentration camps, as is China’s mass detention of Muslim Uighurs. America’s mass internment of Japanese citizens during World War II is another example. In fact, as if to make the historical parallel as glaring as possible, Oklahoma’s Fort Sill, where Japanese people were interned, is being pressed into service again for that purpose.

To be clear, the vast majority of these people haven’t been convicted of a crime, or even accused of one. Most are refugees fleeing government dysfunction, brutal gang violence and, increasingly, failing crops and rising seas caused by climate change.

Many of the people housed in these facilities are not “illegal” immigrants. If you present yourself at the border seeking asylum, you have a legal right to a hearing under domestic and international law. They are, in another formulation, refugees — civilian non-combatants who have not committed a crime, and who say they are fleeing violence and persecution. Yet these human beings, who mostly hail from Central America’s Northern Triangle of Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador — a region ravaged by gang violence and poverty and corruption and what increasingly appears to be some of the first forced migrations due to climate change — are being detained on what increasingly seems to be an indefinite basis. (source)

And the neglect and cruelty that pervades these camps goes hand-in-hand with the right’s vicious, dehumanizing rhetoric:

For decades, the right has referred to undocumented immigrants as “illegals,” stripping them of any identity beyond an immigration status. Trump kicked off his formal political career by characterizing Hispanic immigrants as “rapists” and “drug-dealers” and “criminals”… There’s talk of “animals” and monsters, and suddenly anything is justifiable.

Words like these laid the foundation for every genocide in history. By stigmatizing people as other, as lesser-than, as subhuman, we encourage the majority to treat them as disposable – to be unconcerned with what’s done to them, even to cheer at the sight of their suffering. There was a time when it was plausible that this kind of hatred might be fading into the past along with other evils we’ve defeated. Instead, in America in 2019, these evil echoes are issuing from the highest office in the land. You have to wonder if we’ve learned anything at all.

To those who protest that these people are “only” refugees, not citizens to whom we owe a duty, I answer that this is how it always starts: with the most invisible, the least popular, the most voiceless minorities. If we permit it now, who will be next? Green card holders? Naturalized citizens? Anyone who looks suspiciously dark-skinned? With the GOP showing its face as a white supremacist party, we would be foolish to believe it’s impossible.

Image based on HARRIS.news via Wikimedia Commons, released under CC BY-SA 3.0 license

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