I get it. There’s a lot going on in the news, and it’s difficult to follow the constant cycle of despair that is American politics. Between the Republicans’ insatiable desire to put a (second) credibly accused sexual assaulter on the Supreme Court in Brett Kavanaugh, the near-daily reminders that climate change is getting worse and the firehose of stories highlighting our immoral healthcare system, it’s just a circus of depression right now.
But there is one immensely bleak story that we cannot let slip from our minds: America’s child concentration camps. They’re still here, and they’re growing. Per a new report from the New York Times that broke over the weekend:
In shelters from Kansas to New York, hundreds of migrant children have been roused in the middle of the night in recent weeks and loaded onto buses with backpacks and snacks for a cross-country journey to their new home: a barren tent city on a sprawling patch of desert in West Texas.
Until now, most undocumented children being held by federal immigration authorities had been housed in private foster homes or shelters, sleeping two or three to a room. They received formal schooling and regular visits with legal representatives assigned to their immigration cases.
But in the rows of sand-colored tents in Tornillo, Tex., children in groups of 20, separated by gender, sleep lined up in bunks. There is no school: The children are given workbooks that they have no obligation to complete. Access to legal services is limited.
Barack Obama’s administration did detain children, but it was mostly kids who arrived at the border alone. Trump’s policy of separating families has dramatically increased the number of children America is detaining from around 2,800 in May 2017 to over 13,000 now. This is abhorrent. This is quite literally the kind of stuff that inspired the Nazis. If you think that sentence is hyperbolic, let me direct you to this passage from Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf:
There is today one state in which at least weak beginnings toward a better conception [of immigration] are noticeable. Of course, it is not our model German Republic, but [the US], in which an effort is made to consult reason at least partially. By refusing immigrants on principle to elements in poor health, by simply excluding certain races from naturalization, it professes in slow beginnings a view that is peculiar to the People’s State.
Mein Kampf was published in 1925. The “refusing immigrants” portion references the 1924 Immigration Act, which is one of the most shameful policies our government has ever passed. The law advocated Nazi-style eugenics in order to reduce the number of Jews, Italians and other groups we were discriminating against at the time from entering the United States. The existential discussion of whether America could go the way of the Nazis misses the point: in some small way, we helped inspire the Nazis.
And it’s not like America looks on our 1924 law with shame. Don’t believe me? Per Attorney General Jeff Sessions in 2015:
In seven years we’ll have the highest percentage of Americans, non-native born, since the founding of the Republic. Some people think we’ve always had these numbers, and it’s not so, it’s very unusual, it’s a radical change. When the numbers reached about this high in 1924, the president and Congress changed the policy, and it slowed down immigration significantly, we then assimilated through the 1965 [Immigration Act] and created really the solid middle class of America, with assimilated immigrants, and it was good for America. We passed a law that went far beyond what anybody realized in 1965, and we’re on a path to surge far past what the situation was in 1924.
America’s most powerful lawman literally agrees with Hitler when it comes to that specific immigration policy. “Never again” isn’t just some empty slogan offered up to depict empathy for the victims of the Holocaust—it’s a reminder that it could happen anywhere. America’s concentration camps have not reached anywhere near the level of barbarity as Nazi Germany’s extermination camps, and it’s likely that they never will, but it’s a lesson to bear in mind as the situation on our border persists.
We don’t know what Trump’s plans are for these 13,000 kids, but the fact that they are not receiving an education and have little access to legal representation should give you a pretty good idea about how much they care about their well-being. That they’re moving them in the middle of the night is proof that the Trump administration understands how unpopular indefinitely detaining children they separated from their parents is—but that they’re still doing it is proof of how determined they are not to reverse course. This is horrifying, and if we forget about these 13,000 children stuck under the boot of Trump’s federal government, then we are complicit in Trump’s crimes against humanity. The best way for the average person to stop this nightmare is to make sure you’re registered to vote, then vote for Democrats this November, so Trump and the Republican Party understand that there is a political price to pay for throwing kids in desert tent camps indefinitely.
Jacob Weindling is a staff writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.