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Stop Wasting Time Arguing About Concentration Camps

And focus on ending our humanitarian disaster at the border

Carly Pildis
June 24, 2019
Photo: Paul Ratje/AFP/Getty Image
Anti-Trump protesters in El Paso, Texas, on Feb. 11, 2019Photo: Paul Ratje/AFP/Getty Image
Photo: Paul Ratje/AFP/Getty Image
Anti-Trump protesters in El Paso, Texas, on Feb. 11, 2019Photo: Paul Ratje/AFP/Getty Image

These are the six migrant children who have died in U.S. custody since September:

Carlos Hernandez Vásquez, 16.

Juan de Leon Gutiérrez, 16.

Darlyn Cristabel Cordova-Valle, 10.

Felipe Gomez Alonzo, 8.

Jakelin Caal Maquín, 7.

Wilmer Josué Ramírez Vásquez, 2 1/2 years old.

This is America’s cruelty. This is America’s shame. These kids, and what my country did to them, keep me up at night. They should keep you up, too.

Their names should be trending on Twitter, but instead, we are again having the same inane debate about historical classifications and appropriate use of Holocaust language. This latest round of inanity began when Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez used the term in an impassioned video decrying the policy. She was then lambasted by Republican Reps. Liz Cheney and Lee Zeldin for “minimizing the Holocaust,” and we were off to the races, a maddening circus that saw people who should know better wasting their time debating the technical origin of the term “concentration camp” and discussing the Boer War while refugees are being held in what ICE agents themselves describe as “dog pounds” and “freezers.”

There’s nothing wrong about debating history and its intricacies, and even Twitter can be home for an actual meaningful debate and learning every now and then. We need to talk about rising anti-Semitism across the globe, and Holocaust education plays a vital role in that, but we need to do it in a context that honors the complexity of the problem. That said, considering how vast the humanitarian crisis of our own making truly is, to spend so much time talking about technicalities is a waste of time, and time is precious to those in harm’s way. And yet, talk technicalities we all did, from various members of Congress, who might’ve instead focused on executing a strategy to end the crisis, to a coterie of rabbis with enormous influence, who could’ve been otherwise busy leading their congregations in massive marches demanding no more kids in cages.

There are those, of course, who have a vested stake in the distraction. A senior Trump Reelection Campaign official emailed me a list of talking points, hoping that myself and others would write a piece demanding AOC apologize for “trivializing the Holocaust.” They want this to be a circus, because, as Bob Fosse wrote, Who can hear the truth above the roar? Make enough noise, and the story becomes not about inhumane treatment of children and families but about a junior congresswoman from the Bronx, or the Democrats, or Donald Trump, or the exact definition of a concentration camp, or something. As the pundits weighed in, the academics debated history and definition of terms, and the hot takes were written, we all lost track of what was at stake.

Here’s what’s at stake: kids. Very young kids in U.S. government care. Families fleeing violence and oppression and seeking the freedom of America, only to find themselves met with cruelty, abuse, and detainment. Parents, ripped away from their American kids and deported.

They want us to forget what they did because election season is already here.

But we should follow that mighty Jewish dictum and never forget. Never forget this:

2,654 immigrant children were taken from their parents as a direct result of Trump administration policies. Over 1,000 children were under the age of 10. It took a court order to stop the policy, and advocates on the border, including the Texas Civil Rights Project, say separations are still happening and that they’ve witnessed them on a daily basis. They will march this weekend.

We deported a father and told him we would bring his 4-month-old onto the plane. We lied. I can’t imagine his anguish as the plane took off. The children we traumatized wouldn’t eat. They screamed and cried for their parents. We even traumatized their caseworkers. A man killed himself when we took his child from him. A mother from Honduras told of a child ripped from her breast. Even though many kids have been returned to their parents, they have still suffered enormously and it isn’t fixed easily. According to Dr. Colleen Kraft, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, family separation can cause lifelong, irreversible damage to kids’ development. The American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association all condemned President Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy as causing irreversible, lifelong damage to children.

Children continue to be detained in horrifying conditions. The Trump administration argued to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals this week that it is not required to provide soap or toothbrushes to immigrant children in their care who were detained at the border and that they can sleep on the floor of frigid facilities. Judges were reportedly aghast.

The conditions at the government facilities where families seeking asylum are being detained are reportedly abysmal. The Border Network for Human Rights has reported finding severe overcrowding and meager food. One advocate discovered a teenage girl cradling a tiny premature baby wrapped in a sweatshirt. Border patrol agents had reportedly forced the girl to throw away clothing and supplies for the infant, leaving her with nothing. Migrants in El Paso are being kept outdoors due to overcrowding in 100-degree heat. A legal team interviewed over 60 children at a border patrol facility in Texas and found dangerous and traumatic conditions for the 250 children there, including infants, children, and teens. Children told the team they weren’t being fed enough, were denied clean clothes and access to showers, and were forced to care for very young children, including three young girls left in charge of a sick 2-year-old boy they had no relation to. People seeking asylum have described being humiliated by cruel U.S. officials, kept in freezing cages, and hearing constant wailing of hungry children. The Trump administration is planning to use a U.S. army base that was formerly a Japanese internment camp to house children.

When we are talking about immigration, these are the stories we should be focusing on. These are the horrors we should not allow ourselves to look away from. We cannot let ourselves be distracted by a sideshow about words and technical definitions: It’s what those enforcing the policies want. There is too much at stake. The people doing this need to be held accountable.


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Carly Pildis is the Director of Grassroots Organizing for the Jewish Democratic Council of America, and an advocacy professional based in Washington, D.C. Her Twitter feed is @carlypildis, and her website is