If the shoe fits, you're in a concentration camp
When Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) called the immigrant detention facilities at the border “concentration camps,” her detractors were up in arms.
“This is wrong @AOC. These are incredibly dangerous and disgusting words that demean the millions murdered during the Holocaust,” tweeted Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.). This sentiment was echoed by politicians and figureheads alike, such as Vice President Mike Pence, who called the comparison an “outrage” and the United States Holocaust Museum, which said in a statement that it “unequivocally rejects efforts to create analogies between the Holocaust and other events, whether historical or contemporary.”
As a Jewish-American teen, I am intimately familiar with the atrocities of the Holocaust. I understand the sensitivity of using such evocative language. I wish I could consult the Holocaust survivors in my family about how they feel on this;however, there are none. Every single one of my relatives in Europe at the time were slaughtered in the Nazi death camps. Therefore, I am left to come to my own conclusions.
Concentration camps, though largely associated with the Holocaust, were not actually invented by the Nazis. According to Merriam Webster, the first use of the word “concentration camp” was far before World War II. Originating in 1897, the term describes “a place where large numbers of people (such as prisoners of war, political prisoners, refugees, or the members of an ethnic or religious minority) are detained or confined under armed guard.”
Granted, the camps at the border have not erected gas chambers. But, I wonder, why is genocide where we as Americans draw the line? Why must bodies burn in smokestacks for an issue to warrant concern?
Ocasio-Cortez’s use of Holocaust-era language may be disconcerting for some. But far more disconcerting is the nature of the crimes against humanity transpiring on American soil. While some were busy nitpicking language, thousands of immigrant children went missing under the government’s care; thousands more were sexually abused while detained in American concentration camps; over two dozen detained youths died from preventable illnesses after being denied basic medical care, such as flu vaccines; and corporate executives transformed kidnapping children, separating families and denying immigrants basic human rights into a multi-billion-dollar business venture.
One might assert these claims are too bold. “But we couldn’t have concentration camps or Nazis in America,” nay-sayers cry out. “We fought them! We saved the world from them and we won!”
It’s a convenient narrative that’s been spun by post-war nationalism, but this mindset conveniently forgets that the first gas chambers were built in Nebraska in 1921 to kill a Chinese man, or that the pioneers of the Nuremberg Laws cited American Jim Crow policies as their inspiration.
This isn’t to say that all Holocaust comparisons are warranted. There have been plenty of times where this figurehead or that author is called a literal Nazi when, really, words like “strict” or “mean” or just plain “ignorant” would be much more apt. The degradation of the trauma of the Holocaust is a legitamate issue.
But referring to American concentration camps as American concentration camps is not one of these instances. American immigration policies are not just unjust or inhumane; they are deadly in more ways than one.
Take, for example, the case of Jimmy Aldaoud. The American man of Iraqi descent was born in a refugee camp in Greece and brought to the United States when he was less than a year old. He spent his entire life in Michigan and didn’t speak a word of Arabic. Nonetheless, ICE deported him. His family didn’t even know he was gone until he called them from a payphone in Iraq, frantic as his health declined.
After begging and pleading, Aldaoud was finally brought home to his family in the United States – but only after Iraqi officials found him dead in the streets, covered in vomit and blood. When his sisters finally embraced him again, it was through a body bag.
To stop the bloodshed, we must call it by its true name. Concentration camps have been erected on American soil. If that sentence bothers you: good. Do something about it.