The idea of concentration camps evokes an image of horror, of humanity’s worst moment in history. It is impossible to not see photographs and hear stories of those camps and not feel intense grief and anguish at the sight of such suffering. This visceral reaction has led to the phrase “Never Again,” used to emphasize the moral responsibility we all share to ensure that the horrors of the Holocaust never happen again. It is under this moral code that Jewish protesters picket outside of ICE detention facilities, repeating, “Never Again Means Not Now,” as they block ICE employees from entering and leaving these facilities with the aim of shutting them down entirely. These protests have been the result of a growing movement with the aim of classifying ICE detention facilities as concentration camps, pointing to the gross mistreatment of the men, women, and young children as clear evidence for such a classification.
They are right. The conditions in detention facilities are poor and dismal at best. Flu and lice outbreaks run rampant, exacerbated by the overcrowded facilities that lead to people sleeping shoulder to shoulder on cold concrete with nothing more than a foil blanket to warm them. Often they aren’t even able to sleep, the rooms far too cold to do anything more than shiver, sometimes not having enough space to lie down, forced to either sit or stand. Rarely are people allowed showers or even toothbrushes. Meals often solely consist of sandwiches made of two pieces of dry bread and one slice of ham. The Department of Homeland Security has released reports describing “egregious violations of detention standards,” such as expired food and nooses found in filthy cells and bathrooms. Children are forced to take care of even younger children, filling in as parental figures after having been ripped away from their own parents.
This cruelty is the point. The Trump administration has, after all, gone to court to argue that soap, toothbrushes, and sleep are not necessary in order to create a safe and sanitary environment for children. The judges, as most sane people would, called this train of thought “inconceivable.” Regardless of nationality, these are still human beings who deserve basic human rights. This inhumane treatment is not solely directed at undocumented Latin Americans either. Francisco Erwin Galicia, a Dallas-born American citizen, spent 23 days in detention, crowded into a small room with dozens of other men. He was not allowed to shower, and he had to sleep on the ground. He was hardly fed, losing 26 pounds during his time in detention. It got to the point that he seriously contemplated self-deportation in order to escape his horrible conditions. The only reason Galicia was in this situation to begin with was that CBP (Customs and Border Protection) officers at a CBP checkpoint did not believe the legality of his Texas ID, Social Security card, or birth certificate. His brother self-deported.
Concentration camps are not a far-removed event that only happened in Germany during the 1940s. They have happened and are happening here in America. The U.S. government held concentration camps for both Native Americans during the genocide that allowed for westward expansion and for Japanese-Americans during World War II accused of being “anti-American.” There are still Japanese-Americans alive today who were held captive by their own country.
During the summer, in fact, ICE had announced plans to turn Fort Sill, an Oklahoma Army base, into a holding facility specifically for migrant children. Fort Sill previously housed Apache prisoners of war during the 1890s and Japanese-Americans in 1942. This move was protested by both Apache descendants and surviving Japanese internees. If concentration camps have already happened in America’s past, they can happen again. The Holocaust did not begin with Auschwitz or with gas chambers. It began with dehumanization, with corralling people into inhabitable situations and masking it with false moral quandaries. A popular German protest slogan says it the best: Wehret den Anfängen. Resist the beginnings.