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.