Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., on Tuesday sharply criticized the Trump administration’s practice of holding migrants seeking asylum in what she called “concentration camps.”
“This administration has established concentration camps on the southern border of the United States for immigrants, where they are being brutalized with dehumanizing conditions and dying,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted.
On Monday night, she posted a video to Instagram expressing the same concerns.
“The fact that concentration camps are now an institutionalized practice in the home of the free is extraordinarily disturbing,” Ocasio-Cortez said.
Several conservatives, including Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., quickly denounced what they described as her loose and inaccurate language.
“Please @AOC do us all a favor and spend just a few minutes learning some actual history,” Cheney tweeted. “6 million Jews were exterminated in the Holocaust. You demean their memory and disgrace yourself with comments like this.”
“Hey Rep. Cheney, since you’re so eager to ‘educate me,’ I’m curious,” she tweeted. What do YOU call building mass camps of people being detained without a trial?”
“For the shrieking Republicans who don’t know the difference: concentration camps are not the same as death camps,” Ocasio-Cortez wrote on Twitter. “Concentration camps are considered by experts as ‘the mass detention of civilians without trial.’ And that’s exactly what this administration is doing.”
The freshman Democrat pointed to a recent Esquire article in which several historians referred to the detention centers along the U.S. southern border as “concentration camps.”
“We have what I would call a concentration camp system,” Andrea Pitzer, author of “One Long Night: A Global History of Concentration Camps,” told the magazine.
This is not the first time a Republican legislator has gone after Ocasio-Cortez for her likening of the administration’s border camps to the early stages of the Holocaust. In November, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham scolded Ocasio-Cortez for likening the refugees fleeing Central America to Jewish families fleeing Germany, among others.
“I recommend she take a tour of the Holocaust Museum in DC,” said Graham. “Might help her better understand the differences between the Holocaust and the caravan in Tijuana.”
In February 2017, the U.S. Holocaust Museum issued a statement condemning Trump’s proposal to ban refugees from entering the United States. Ocasio-Cortez then rebutted Graham.
“The point of such a treasured museum is to bring its lessons to present day,” wrote Ocasio-Cortez on Twitter. “This administration has jailed children and violated human rights. Perhaps we should stop pretending that authoritarianism + violence is a historical event instead of a growing force.”
Ocasio-Cortez’s position is consistent with the Auschwitz memorial’s history of the Holocaust.
“When we look at Auschwitz we see the end of the process,” said a November 2018 statement from the Twitter account of the memorial for the Nazi camp where as many as a million Jews and other “undesirables” were killed. “It’s important to remember that the Holocaust actually did not start from gas chambers. This hatred gradually developed from words, stereotypes & prejudice through legal exclusion, dehumanisation & escalating violence.”
Bend the Arc, a progressive Jewish group, also came to Ocasio-Cortez’s defense by referring to the ” The Voyage of the Damned,” when 900 European Jews were turned away by both Cuba and the United States. They were returned to Europe where more than 250 of them died in the Holocaust.
“We recommend you read about the MS St. Louis in 1939, and countless other examples of the United States turning away Jewish refugees before and during the Holocaust,” wrote the group’s account in a retweet of Graham’s comments. “Might help you better understand why people seeking asylum always deserve dignity and our compassion.”
Concentration camps are not necessarily death camps, a delineation Ocasio-Cortez was clear to make.
“What’s required is a little bit of demystification of it,” says Waitman Wade Beorn, a Holocaust and genocide studies historian and a lecturer at the University of Virginia, in an interview with Esquire. “Things can be concentration camps without being Dachau or Auschwitz. Concentration camps in general have always been designed – at the most basic level – to separate one group of people from another group. Usually, because the majority group, or the creators of the camp, deem the people they’re putting in it to be dangerous or undesirable in some way.”
Concentration camps predate Nazi Germany and were employed by Spanish colonial officials in Cuba during the war for independence in the late 19th century and by the British in South Africa during the turn-of-the-century Boer War. The United States housed Japanese-Americans, including American-born citizens, in camps around the West after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Ocasio-Cortez noted that just last week, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced that Fort Sill, an Army base in Oklahoma that was used to intern Japanese-Americans during World War II, will be used to detain as many as 1,400 children until they can be turned over to an adult relative.
“This is a crisis for ourselves,” she said. “This is a crisis on whether America will remain America.”
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