On July 2nd, I participated in a #CloseTheCamps rally demanding that the illegal concentration camps for undocumented children and their families — with 71% of migrants being held in for-profit facilities as of November 2017 — be shut down. I stood on the sidewalk of a local park with about 60 other protesters as we held signs and rattled noisemakers, chanting and begging our neighbors to give a damn about the atrocities being committed in our names.
Many cars honked in support as they drove by. Others gave us the thumbs up. Still others drove by without comment. What does it take to get all of us, at least the majority of us who never voted for any of this, into the streets?
As we daily learn more about the distressingly expansive scope of the human rights abuses ICE and the CBP are inflicting on their fellow human beings, many still want to skirt around the issue. We end up deflecting from the chilling reality, which is that we’re on a slippery slope to genocide, in favor of debating whether it’s appropriate to call the concentration camps what they are.
Members of the GOP, the political party of white supremacists and neo-Nazi apologists, wring their hands in faux outrage as they invoke the plight of the Jewish people during the Holocaust. How dare you refer to these facilities as concentration camps! they cry. It helps them wiggle out of being viewed as the monsters they’ve become. Meanwhile, more than 430 Holocaust and genocide experts have agreed with Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez that “concentration camps” is indeed appropriate terminology for the situation.
As Danya Ruttenberg wrote for The Washington Post, “[T]he Holocaust didn’t begin with gas chambers, and it’s not business as usual in America right now.
“We already know that the path to atrocity can be a process, and that the Holocaust began with dehumanizing propaganda, with discriminatory laws, with roundups and deportations, and with internment,” she explains. “Those things are happening in our country today, and they’re known as some of the first stages of genocide first articulated by Genocide Watch in 1996.”
In other words, if we don’t stop it, this could all lead to extermination. We like to think that’s far too dramatic of a conclusion, but look at where we already are. A year ago, our current situation would have seemed like a dystopian Hollywood movie to many. We can’t normalize any of this, and we can’t keep our heads in the sand.
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Cruelty is A Feature, Not A Bug in the System
We certainly can’t rely on the myth that those committing these abuses are just a few “bad apples” or that the lack of fresh food, clothes, soap, toothpaste, and showers is somehow an innocent glitch due to lack of funding. As ProPublica uncovered, about 9500 Border Patrol officers — almost half of the 20,000 Border Patrol force — were discovered to be part of a secret Facebook group in which members “joked about the deaths of migrants, discussed throwing burritos at Latino members of Congress visiting a detention facility in Texas on Monday and posted a vulgar illustration depicting Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez engaged in oral sex with a detained migrant.”
At least one commenter responded to an article about the death of a 16 year-old Guatemalan boy in Border Patrol custody with the words, “If he dies, he dies.”
After Rep. Ocasio-Cortez paid a visit to a CBP camp in Texas and managed to “forc[e]” herself into a cell filled with migrant women, she reported that the women were denied access to safe drinking water and told by guards to drink out of the toilet. The guards also reportedly woke the women up in the middle of the night as part of their “psychological warfare” and called them “whores.”
This information helps remind us that cruelty against migrants is a feature, not a bug, within a larger system shaped by white supremacy, xenophobia, and colonialism. This dehumanization makes sense within a landscape in which, as the ProPublica piece points out, “hundreds of active-duty and retired law enforcement officers … mov[e] in extremist Facebook circles, including white supremacist and anti-government groups,” as uncovered in an investigation by Reveal. This is also in line with FBI reports from 2006, 2009, and 2015 detailing how white supremacists have infiltrated law “enforcement” roles.
We should all be on high alert that people with this kind of hatred in their hearts are in positions of power to determine the fates of thousands of people. We must not let history repeat itself. We must ensure that #neveragain can those who commit atrocities attempt to evade justice by claiming they were just “doing their jobs.”
When we do nothing to stop these crimes, we are enabling this body terrorism. When we accept that tearing kids away from their families, kidnapping them and committing child abuse, detaining them in concentration camps, sexually abusing them, and neglecting them until they die preventable deaths — when we accept that all of that is people just “doing their jobs,” we have failed as a country.
More Radical Reads: Kidnapping, Jailing, and Abusing Immigrant Children is Body Terrorism
And that’s why it would be obscene to celebrate the 4th of July this year.
What Is There To Celebrate This 4th of July?
For those of us committed to social justice, it’s fair to say that July 4th in the United States has always been a farce. As Frederick Douglass spoke in 1852, “I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common … This Fourth [of] July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn.”
Douglass, who was born into slavery in Maryland and escaped in 1838 after several failed attempts, became a leader of the abolitionist movement and a prominent supporter of women’s suffrage. He knew firsthand how America’s lofty ideals of freedom and justice applied in reality to white people (especially men) while claiming to speak for all Americans.
“Fellow-citizens,” Douglass implored the crowd during his famous speech, “above your national, tumultuous joy, I hear the mournful wail of millions!”
This is the wail I hear today. The literal wails, via audio recording gone viral, of migrant children torn from their mothers. The tears of migrants and refugees under siege, detained in overcrowded camps, as the American public struggles to decide whether it’s going to collectively turn away and barbecue hot dogs under the fireworks or stand up and fight for what’s right.
As Trump plays autocrat and plans for his narcissistic tank-laden military parade this July 4th, where will we be? Can we really fathom cheering the red, white, and blue while being able to confidently state that the United States is funding concentration camps on US soil? If we can, what have we become?
This is why I propose a boycott of the 4th of July. Don’t spend another minute glorifying the false patriotism of a country on its knees, talking out both sides of our mouths as we extol freedom while keeping crying children locked in cages.
What To Do Instead
Instead of celebrating this July 4th, there are a number of things you can do to help migrant families. Using whichever privileges you may have — citizenship privilege, educational privilege, white privilege, class privilege, able-bodied privilege, and so on — you can advocate for an end to these morally bankrupt, illegal, and fascist policies.
Consider organizing with others in your community to hold protests, rallies, marches, vigils, speakouts, and teach-ins about what’s going on at the border, much like the #CloseTheCamps protest I attended. Check out the nationwide vigils set for July 12th by the group Lights4Liberty, whose website has a constantly expanding list of cities hosting events. Join the Jewish-led grassroots group Never Again Action, whose motto is, “When Jews Say Never Again, We Mean It.”
Donate to migrants’ rights organizations, especially local groups that get less money than the more widely known, national groups like the ACLU. Google lists of top actions to take to support migrants and refugees. If you have the means, volunteer to host a refugee at your home with a group like Room for Refugees.
Also make sure you’re aware of what your rights are should you encounter ICE, especially if they’re unlawfully trying to get access to someone’s documents or gain entry to a home. Knowing your rights can help you stand up for someone who is being intimidated, and depending on the situation, it can save people from arrest, confinement, abuse, and deportation.
Regardless of who you are and what resources you have access to, there is always a role for you to play in affirming the humanity of migrants and refugees and refusing to normalize their mistreatment. Even having conversations with your less aware family members, friends, neighbors, and coworkers will go a long way in creating and sustaining a culture that refuses to look the other way on issues of injustice.
Join me in unequivocally calling out that American concentration camps are wrong. Join me in organizing to figure out how to close them, how to avert further atrocities, so that together we can build a society proud of its diversity and worthy of celebrating. Your conscience will thank you.
As Langston Hughes wrote in his 1935 poem titled “Let America Be America Again,” in which he chastised the failures of US society to live up to its promises of equality and justice and cried out for a better future:
“O, let America be America again—
The land that never has been yet—
And yet must be—the land where every man is free.”
(Feature Image: Photo of an American flag in the late afternoon or at dusk as faint sunlight illuminates it. The flag serves as the backdrop to a close-up shot of barbed wire. Below the barbed wire is the top of a concrete wall. Source: Pixabay)