Sunday, July 14, 2019

Let's Call Them What They Are: ICE Detention Centres are Concentration Camps

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a concentration camp as "a place where large numbers of people (such as prisoners of war, political prisoners, refugees, or the members of an ethnic or religious minority) are detained or confined under armed guard."

Outdoor cramped cages packed full of migrant children, men, women and babies. Concrete floors and aluminium blankets are deemed a sufficient sleeping arrangements. Spoiled food. Women drinking out of toilet bowls. Unlivable sanitary conditions. Detained for weeks and months on end. Inadequate Healthcare. Deaths of transgender migrants. Rosary beads taken from migrants. Propaganda imagery spread. Nooses found in cells. Is this the road to making America great again to become one of the gross human rights abusers of modern history?

This information has come to light through a Homeland Security led investigation where inspectors visited four Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) centres. These investigations were carried out from May to November 2018, with investigators turning up unannounced to detention centres in California, Louisiana, Colorado and New Jersey. Collectively these four centres have an operating capacity of almost 5,000 people. The worst conditions were found in California and New Jersey centres, where meat and cheese were being left uncovered and unlabelled in walk-in refrigerators with meat smelling foul and looking spoiled, alongside freezer food past its expiration dates. The California facility possessed significant health and safety risks, with investigators reporting that they found nooses inside detainee cells.

The above information prompted further investigations into the ICE centres with lawyers visiting the El Paso detention in Texas in June 2019, which is said to have some of the worst conditions affecting migrant children. Holly Cooper, Co-Director of the UC Davis Immigration Law Clinic said-- "In my 22 years of doing visits with children in detention I have never heard of this level of inhumanity."
Some of these children arrived alone, but the reality of it is that many have been separated from their parents as per a Trump admin policy as of June 2019. At least 24 adults and 6 children have died in U.S. custody. Warren Binford, a lawyer working with migrant children at the border, said she had met children who had been held for weeks at a time when the holding limit is 72 hours. In one cell which was confined to 25 children, six were found to have head lice. The children were given lice shampoo and two combs and were told to share these two combs, the children lost one of the combs and Border Patrol agents got so angry with them that they took away the children's blankets and mats leaving them to sleep on the cold, concrete floor as punishment.

A viral twitter thread by Elizabeth C. McLaughlin highlighted the extreme nature of these border abuses. McLaughlin is a lawyer herself, and within this thread, she recounts phone call she had with a friend who is a legal volunteer in Border Patrol facilities describing the human rights abuses and the move towards militaristic solutions. According to McLaughlin's attorney friend, refugees seeking asylum are transferred to a facility currently being named "the Dog Pound," which is comprised of outside cages with no protection from the elements. The Dog Pound has no running water, no covering and no safety from the elements. Her friend reports a baby was taken away from her teenage mother by a border patrol agent and stripped of its clothes, handed back to the mother and sent to sleep in the dirt that is the Dog Pound. There was no baby food, toddlers were being given infant formula and mothers were forced to start breastfeeding again so the children would not starve. These mothers were already sleep deprived, dehydrated and sick.

The horrors continue with transference to "The Freezer," for weeks at a time corroborating Binford's accounts of children being detained way over the standard holding limit of 72 hours. The Freezer consists of rough, concrete floors without beds and adequate bathroom facilities which is extremely damaging for already sickly adults and children, disabled people and teenage mothers with babies. From this point, migrants are supposed to be moved to residential facilities with beds, food and bathrooms, but as McLaughlin says, the refugees are being moved to military installations. Like, Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez and many others, McLaughlin is not afraid to call these facilities what they are. Concentration camps. By moving to military sites, these camps would come under the control of Homeland Security within the Defense Department and with the military in charge, they can deny access to whomever they choose. This means shutting out lawyers, human rights groups and journalists and with the area becoming protected airspace drones will not be able to fly over an take pictures of what is going on inside, effectively shutting off any outside access to the camps.

This harrowing account McLaughlin describes has been affirmed my numerous papers, including state paper the Texas Monthly, which describes the Dog Pound revealed by a government report which describes "one to 150 men behind a chain-link fence, huddled beneath makeshift shelters made from mylar [foil] blankets and whatever other scraps they could find to shield themselves from the heat of the sun," some of these men had been incarcerated for a month without being able to wash or change clothes from the time they were detained.

What makes all of this information much more alarming is the propaganda images released by the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The images show migrants kids playing basketball and volleyball. Women eating in cafeterias, which appear to be clean, have furniture and even a television. The migrants appear clean and looked after, with ICE stating that treatment plans are being made for transgender detainees. They advertise mental health and dental services, women are seen planting and watering herbs, and there's an overwhelming focus on the high care they are giving to LGBT individuals. Yet, none of this addresses the sheer masses of human rights abuses being reported in these facilities, the lack of basic essentials, such as beds to sleep on, sanitary equipment and clean clothing. As well as the death of a transgender woman in ICE custody has yet to be addressed, now the Transgender Law Centre has filed a lawsuit against ICE alleging improper care that contributed to her death.

One of the most chilling aspects of these atrocities being carried out by the U.S government is the lengths they go to justify the blatant human rights abuses. In late June, the Trump administration was taken to court over its gross treatments towards detained migrant children. Sarah Fabian, a lawyer from the Justice Department who spoke on behalf of the Trump administration defending the ICE detention centres decision to not provide children with soap, toothbrushes and beds. This stems from the ruling that the conditions under Border Patrol custody are required to be 'safe and sanitary,' as per a 1997 settlement which states that detention centres must be 'safe and sanitary.' In an exchange between Fabian and U.S. Circuit Judge William Fletcher, Fabian demonstrates the absurd mental gymnastics she has to go through to justify toothbrushes, toothpaste, soap and beds are not part of safe and sanitary conditions.

Fletcher-- "It is relatively obvious, and is at least obvious enough so that if you're putting young people into a crowded room to sleep on a concrete floor with an aluminium foil blanket on top of them, that doesn't comply with the agreement. It may be that they don't get super thread count Egyptian linens, I get that. But the testimony that the district judge believed was it's really cold. In fact, it gets colder when we complain about it being cold. Forced to sleep crowded with the lights on all night long. And all you do is put them on the concrete floor with an aluminium blanket. I understand that in some outer boundary there may be some definitional difficulty, but no one would argue that this is safe and sanitary. Or at least I don't think you're arguing that, are you?"

Fabian-- "Your honor, I think what I'm arguing I'm arguing is that the way that the district court reached the conclusion was to say these specific items. And I will acknowledge that sleep is the more difficult end of what I'm arguing. When you start enumerating, for example, specific hygiene items -- and the way that was done is that the court sort of enumerated these and say these fall under the rubric, these fall under the category of what can be required."

A second judge, Senior Circuit Judge A. Wallace Tashima asks her the simple question of-- "it's within everybody's common understanding, that you know, if you don't have a toothbrush, if you don't have soap, if you don't have a blanket, it's not safe and sanitary. wouldn't everybody agree to that? Do you agree to that?" and even then she cannot say yes, she cannot agree, she says 'maybe.' Now some would say she is simply doing her job, her job to defend the Trump administration. But, at what point do you have to see that doing your job is contributing to mass human rights violations. That your job is to defend keeping people in unsanitary conditions that you would yourself would not want to be in, that you cannot even say concretely yes or no to being safe and sanitary.

The first time I saw the detention centres being referred to as concentration camps was through an exchange on twitter between Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Liz Cheney. Ocasio-Cortez's tweet reads as follows--"Reminder: the member who directly + explicitly compared concentration on our border to the Holocaust was *Liz Cheney* The Horrors of the Holocaust went beyond the use of concentration camps, yet camps were part of the process. They have also been used before and after." In a follow-up tweet, Ocasio-Cortez cites Cheney's original tweet in which Cheney says--"Please @AOC do us all a favor and spend just a few minutes learning some actual history. 6 million Jews were exterminated in the Holocaust. You demean their memory and disgrace yourself with comments like this." Cheney's tweet comes in response to Ocasio-Cortez's Instagram live stream in which Ocasio-Cortez says that "The United States is running concentration camps on our southern border and that is exactly what they are. They are concentration camps and if that doesn't bother you. . . I want to talk to the people that are concerned enough with humanity to say . . . that never again means something."  The problem with Cheney's ignorance is that by definition these detention facilities are concentration camps. They are full of an ethnic minority being held under armed guard. Moreover, the Holocaust did not start out as extermination camps that led to the genocide of the Jewish people. They started with the demonisation of these individuals by the political elite, then came the ghettos and concentration camps, to the final solution. Does the United States really have to wait until that very moment to actually do something about the gross injustices taking place on American soil? Are they going to let it go so far, that one day they will be the ones uttering never again?

Ocasio-Cortez was met with numerous acclaims of support from the Jewish community, which was actualised in the JewsAgainstICE protest where 36 Jewish nonviolent protestors were arrested for blocking a detention centre in New Jersey and shared from the Never Again Action group, who are actively campaigning against ICE. Latina Jew, Tae Phoenix shares a sinister parallel image of ICE cages with the guards outside of them and one from Nazi Germany. These parallel images are not uncommon, like the infamous rosary beads taken from migrants compared to wedding rings taken from Jewish people in Nazi Germany. Moreover, Ocasio-Cortez never even mentions the Holocaust, she actually refers to the Japanese internment camps. What Cheney neglects to do in her ignorant tweet is actually talk to Jewish people and acknowledge that there are Jewish people being affected by the ICE facilities. Just take a scroll through their Twitter page and you will see that they have been organising numerous events to protest against the abhorrent abuses of human rights in these facilities. In two days time, they have a protest scheduled in DC with the intent to shut down ICE.

Ocasio-Cortez is not the only Democrat to openly speak out, this week numerous House Democrats gave testimonies during a hearing on the Trump administration's child separation policy at the border. During this hearing, she testifies on a visit women were being forced to drink out of a toilet bowl because the sink in their cell was not working, and upon this visit, she tested the sink which did not work. Representative Rashida Tlaib reports the suicide rate of agents of 100 from 2017 to 2018 showing the extent of this dehumanisation beyond the oppressed, but with the oppressors following the orders of the state. She shares a dark image drawn by a child from one of the camps, showing people laying on the floor in a cage.

This was an incredibly difficult post to write given the nature of the abuses, but also because of the sheer amount of information that is coming out daily about these crimes against humanity. With the testimonies of House Democrats this week, more pressure needs to be put on the federal government to remedy the situation that has caused a human rights crisis in the country which prides itself on being the land of the free, yet is incarcerating and torturing migrant men, women and children. They need to act now, or they will go down in history as the country that forces women to drink out of toilet bowl, forces children to sleep on concrete floors caring for babies, the imagery of nooses in cells and the contributors to the deaths of trans people.


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