Concentrating on Camps

Dr. Malcolm Cross

Charges by AOC that America’s detention centers along our southern border, established to house illegal immigrants, are actually “concentration camps” are gross exaggerations.  But an increasing number of news reports describe poor conditions which immigrants in general and children, in particular, must endure—conditions including inadequate food, clothing, medical attention, sanitary items, and even places and opportunities to sleep.   See, for example, this article in the Texas Tribune, or this from the New York Times.   These reports should be taken seriously, and if they’re true, the conditions must be improved.  

“We simply cannot allow people to pour into the United States undetected, undocumented, unchecked, and circumventing the line of people who are waiting patiently, diligently, and lawfully to become immigrants in this country.”  So said Senator Barack Obama back in 2005.  I couldn’t agree with him more, and I couldn’t express these sentiments better myself.  That’s why I support our program of sending those who enter the United States illegally to detention facilities while their cases are being reviewed and adjudicated.

To call these facilities “concentration camps” is a gross exaggeration.  Neither AOC nor her supporters in the media have adequately defended the meaning of her remarks. 

For example, some of AOC’s defenders have said that in considering Nazi “concentration” camps one must distinguish them from the “death camps,” such as Auschwitz and Treblinka, which had gas chambers for the immediate extermination of arriving prisoners—especially Jews—and crematoria for the disposal of their remains.  AOC did not call our facilities “death camps.”

But the difference between a Nazi “death camp” and a Nazi “concentration camp” is much smaller than AOC’s journalistic defenders want to acknowledge.  In the latter, most prisoners were slated for “death through labor.”  In other words, they were to be fed a diet deliberately designed to induce malnutrition and starvation, and then forced to do hard labor—quarry mining, for example—until they dropped.  Disease and random acts of violence would add to the death toll.  In the end, the inmates of the “concentration camps” would meet the same fate as those of the “death camps,” no matter what AOC’s defenders might say.

AOC herself has said in her own defense that she wasn’t talking about Nazi concentration camps, but about concentration camps in general.  And she thus has a point, or maybe a tenth of a point.  Nazi Germany had no monopoly on concentration camps.  

Other countries, including Great Britain and the United States, also had what were explicitly called concentration camps as well.  In the British camps, set up in South Africa during the Boer War (1899-1902) to house war refugees, 26,000 inmates, mostly women and children, died of starvation or diseases, thanks to the appalling conditions the British allowed in the camps.  

In 1927, African American journalists credibly reported on the mistreatment of African American inmates in the network of concentration camps created by the Red Cross under the supervision of Commerce Secretary Herbert Hoover to house refugees of that year’s Great Mississippi Flood; they argued that in the camps African Americans were forced at gunpoint by the National Guard units guarding the camps to perform the heavy labor required to build and retain them.

Assuming the reports of deplorable conditions in our facilities are true, we are still lightyears away from being as bad as the Nazis, as the British in the Boer War, or as ourselves in the 1920s.   There are no reports of mass starvation, unchecked epidemics, slave labor, or executions.   But we must do better anyway.  

When I was on the city council I believed—and I still do, for that matter—that “a stitch in time saves nine,” i. e., that we should do more now to remedy problems before they got worse.  In this instance, we must improve the conditions in our detention facilities before they deteriorate.  The sooner we act, the easier our task will be.

To allow the conditions that allegedly exist as reported in today’s news outlets is incompatible with our aspirations to be humane and rational.  Moreover, should we fail to rectify whatever inadequacies exist, those of us who support detention of illegals are simply undermining our position and giving our opponents better talking points to use against us.  

In short, whether we want more immigrants or fewer, we must recognize that immigrants are people too, and not mere animals; that whatever the sins of the parents in bringing their children to America illegally, the children themselves should not be punished by being forced to live in squalor; and that we must implement our immigration goals, whatever they may be, with the reason and compassion which characterize America at its best.


Malcolm L. Cross has lived in Stephenville and taught politics and government at Tarleton since 1987. His political and civic activities include service on the Stephenville City Council (2000-2014) and on the Erath County Republican Executive Committee (1990 to the present).  He was Mayor Pro Tem of Stephenville from 2008 to 2014.  He is a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and the Stephenville Rotary Club, and does volunteer work for the Boy Scouts of America. Views expressed in this column are his and do not reflect those of The Flash as a whole.

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