They Are Concentration Camps — and They Are Also Prisons


The migrant camps in which children are being incarcerated are concentration camps — and they are also prisons. We must hold these dual, overlapping realities in our minds, as we strive to comprehend the interrelated horrors to which the United States — not just Trump, but the United States — subjects millions of people every day. “

The words “Holocaust” and “concentration camp” were trending on Twitter on Tuesday. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez had referred to the prison camps that migrant children are being kept in as “concentration camps,” and a virtual war erupted. The feigned outrage of conservatives was loud. Some argued that the Holocaust was a singular event, to which no parallel should be claimed. Meanwhile, many historians and people personally connected to the Holocaust insisted that the comparison was valid.

As a Native writer and a Jewish writer, respectively, whose ancestors and cultures were subject to attempted state-sanctioned annihilation, we are not opposed to people using the words “concentration camps” to describe the camps in which migrant children, teens and adults are being caged. The words accurately apply, and we should not hesitate to use Holocaust comparisons in appropriate situations like this one. However, if we stop at analogies that are suggestive of a faraway time and place, we are disregarding a wide web of interconnected atrocities that impact millions of people right now in the United States.

We have both spent many years struggling, organizing and writing against the prison-industrial complex, a many-tentacled system of death and destruction. It’s a system that extends well beyond the walls of the buildings formally known as “prisons” and “jails,” where over 2 million people are trapped, some of them spending decades and even lifetimes behind bars. It extends to the estimated 200,000 people shackled with electronic monitors, imprisoned in their homes. It extends to the euphemistically named “juvenile detention centers” — really, youth jails and prisons — where children are abused, locked in solitary confinement, and torn from those they love. (Family separation is a longstanding feature of the prison system.) The prison-industrial complex extends to the people indefinitely incarcerated in “civil commitment centers” and psychiatric hospitals, and in military prisons; and it extends to the youth trapped in the punitive and racially biased “child protective services” net. It extends to policing, a violent practice of capturing, harming and sometimes directly killing large numbers of disproportionately Black, Brown, trans and/or disabled people. The prison-industrial complex also extends to another immense punitive, violent institution: the U.S. immigration system, which hosts its own wide network of jails (usually labeled “detention centers”).

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