“Migrants Are In American Concentration Camps”—A Rabbi’s Perspective

AOC’s comparison of the Trump Administration’s migrant detention centers to concentration camps drew backlash, but is she right?

This undated photo provided by HHS’ Administration for Children and Families shows the shelter used to house unaccompanied foreign children in Tornillo, Texas. (HHS’ Administration for Children and Families via AP)

This undated photo provided by HHS’ Administration for Children and Families shows the shelter used to house unaccompanied foreign children in Tornillo, Texas. (HHS’ Administration for Children and Families via AP)

We should have broken hearts. It’s more than refusing asylum to those seeking the safety of the United States. It’s even more than the separation of families. Our government warehouses children in “detention camps,” that are in essence concentration camps.

Lest anyone object to the term concentration camps, we must remember the conditions and reasons for their existence:

  1. Dehumanization of the “other.” Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, the mentally ill, political enemies and others, lost their status as rule human beings in governmental eyes.
  2. Because these people were despised and no longer human, overcrowding was not a moral problem. Nor did they deserve comfort. Enough food? A waste of money.
  3. Overcrowding leads to the spread of illness. A lack of sanitation, decent sleeping conditions, not even access to soap or water further causes ill health. In the Nazi camps, starvation and rampant illness were every bit as dangerous as the gas chambers.

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And yet, this is how the United States government treats migrant children whose families came to our country seeking safety and freedom.

Investigators found children taking care of even smaller children. Most of these children haven’t bathed or brushed their teeth in weeks. Sick children were not being treated properly. When they got head lice, guards gave the group two combs to share! People with head lice should not share combs at all —let alone in large groups.

Poor conditions do cause deaths: twenty-four adults in ICE custody; three children in the camps, and two other children at the border. If these conditions persist, we can expect more.

The guards are in uniform, carry arms, and wear face masks. Why face masks? To protect themselves from communicable disease. Couple this with President Trump’s dehumanizing rhetoric and claims that migrants are “infesting” America with disease, and you can see how closely these circumstances are reflective of the past.

To those expressing indignation that many of us compare these detention camps to those of the Nazis, it’s painful to recognize the God-awful truth: these are similar to concentration camps. No, the children aren’t Jewish. But we Jews do not have a monopoly on suffering and persecution.

And we all have a duty not to overlook suffering. Not to be complacent. To open our hearts to this brokenness.

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Opinion // Donald Trump / Human Rights / Immigration