Perhaps Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., should have used a different term or put it in historical context, but her comparison between immigrant detention and concentration camps is correct in both language and history.
The term was first used by the Spanish in Cuba during a 10-year uprising there from 1868-78 when they called detention camps “re-concentration” camps. The British later used the term “concentration camp” when they detained large numbers of Boer noncombatants in “concentration camps” in the Second Boer War, and they used that exact term. This can be checked at Britannica.com.
Ocasio-Cortez might have used a little bit of linguistic padding to ease the shock of the fact that President Donald Trump’s mass detention centers resemble concentration camps often favored by extremist or dictatorial regimes.
Neither Ocasio-Cortez nor I would call these forced-labor, extermination or torture camps, because that would overcome our own misplaced self-righteous sense of non-guilt and holier-than-thou-ism that this country uses to justify locking people away in large camps where they can be concentrated and guarded. Those “detention” centers for Japanese Americans were often placed somewhere in the boondocks (a Filipino word) where they didn’t even have to lock the gates, because there was nowhere to go.
But jump forward to the current century. U.S. Department of Homeland Security personnel have refused at times to allow U.S. senators inside the detention centers to do their due diligence and see what is going on. The only reasonable explanation is that DHS did not want other U.S. officials to see. The people inside were being “concentrated” in specific areas in order to maintain control.
That makes Ocasio-Cortez correct — these are concentration camps. Check the dictionary. Look it up in Britannica.
However, these are not forced-labor camps. They are not death camps. People are being held there, and many of them may be held for years without adequate or legally mandated hearings.
They are concentration camps. What makes the whole mess worse is that at times, people, including unaccompanied minors, are being taken in vans and left at places like the McDonald’s in Deming — just left there. The Great Orange Mistake screwed up on this one, and at some point, supporters will realize that.
We should applaud Ocasio-Cortez for calling our attention to what Trump is doing along the border. And if she uses strong language, she should not be called out for reminding the people of this country that we have many shameful chapters in our past; also now, in our present.
Ted Carlin lives in Santa Fe.