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  • Tens of thousands of Central Americans fleeing violence in their home countries overwhelmed U.S. immigration facilities like this one in Nogales, Arizona.

    Tens of thousands of Central Americans fleeing violence in their home countries overwhelmed U.S. immigration facilities like this one in Nogales, Arizona. | Photo: Reuters

Published 16 June 2019

According to U.S. author, Andrea Pitzer, the definition of a concentration camp is mass detention of civilians without trial, exactly what is happening in the U.S. southern border.

The United States (U.S.) government is no stranger to implementing concentration camps. Back in 1942, 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry were forcibly relocated and incarcerated in the western interior of the country. Almost a century later, Donald Trump’s administration has revived the concentration camp system in the U.S, according to Andrea Pitzer, author and international expert on the matter. 

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US: 24 Migrants Have Died in ICE Custody Under Trump

“When people hear the phrase 'Oh, there's concentration camps on the southern border,' they think, 'Oh, it's not Auschwitz.' Of course, it's not those things, each camp system is different. But you don't have to intend to kill everyone to have really bad outcomes,” Pitzer, author of One Long Night: A Global History of Concentration Camps told Esquire. 

According to the expert, the definition of a concentration camp is mass detention of civilians without trial, exactly what is happening in the U.S. southern border. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is currently detaining more than 52,500 migrants a day and the network of detention centers is spreading out across the country with more than 200 detention facilities tallied.

“Concentration camps, in general, have always been designed 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," Holocaust and genocide studies historian, Waitman Wade Beorn said.

New Border Patrol’s guidelines in the U.S. explicitly ask its agents to target Spanish speakers and migrants from Latin America in carrying out a Trump administration program requiring asylum seekers to wait in Mexico and not enter the U.S., according to memos obtained by the Associated Press. In violation of international law, regarding asylum seekers. 

Another common characteristic of concentration camps is now ever-present in the U.S. detention centers: death, mostly based on the dire conditions that the people have to face. A total of 24 migrants have died in ICE custody according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security which found “egregious violations” at various detention centers it inspected.

According to the report, ill migrants do not receive medical attention and staff often ignores detainee’s requests for care. People are subjected to isolation and to the consumption of spoiled food, those with mental illness are put into solitary confinement and are also abused.

“The longer they're there, the worse the conditions get. That's just a universal of camps. They're overcrowded. As you see mental health crises and contagious diseases begin to set in, they'll work to manage the worst of it. [But] then there will be the ability to tag these people as diseased, even if we created [those conditions],” the expert warns, adding that “over time, the camps will turn those people into what Trump was already saying they are."

On May 15, aerial photos showed adults and children outside the U.S. Border Patrol station for migrants in McAllen, Texas, sleeping on the ground and rigging up makeshift shelters with reflective blankets to protect from the blistering sun. The ground temperature was about 89 Fahrenheit (32 Celsius) when the pictures were taken around midday. 

“Children are being met at the U.S. border with harsh, punitive policies that both violate their rights and severely affect their wellbeing,” Kathryn Hampton, the PHR Asylum Network coordinator, said. As another of Trump’s anti-migration policies are to separate families and isolate children. 

An exposé by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting reported on March 18 that the U.S. government is relying on clandestine shelters to hold unaccompanied migrant children, in possible violation of the long-standing Flores Settlement agreement, in which the federal government is supposed to provide attorneys representing detained children with a regular and detailed census of each minor in the agency’s custody. 

Yet as history seems to repeat itself, the Trump administration, as former president Barack Obama also did, has opted to detain 1,400 children in Fort Sill, located in the southwest of Oklahoma City, this was one of several internment camps where people of Japanese ancestry were held during World War II. "It feels as though history can't yell any louder than this," Yale University history professor, Joanne Freeman, tweeted. 

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