Shut the concentration camps down

It’s a shameful, dangerous moment in US history

RIGHT NOW, migrants at our southern border are being imprisoned and treated like criminals for exercising their legal right to seek asylum in the United States.  They are forced to endure dangerous and inhumane conditions.  They are separated from their children who find themselves living in filth, sleeping on concrete floors, deprived of basic needs like soap and toothbrushes.

Since September, under the current administration, an unprecedented 24 people, six of them children, have died while in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and other government agencies.

Call them detention centers, concentration camps, or internment camps.  Men, women, and children are being rounded up and detained, placed under armed guards, and denied their freedom because of their ethnicity, religion, or immigration status.  As leaders of major Jewish and Japanese American organizations, we are compelled by our history to say we have seen this before and we will not stand idly by.

“Things can be concentration camps without being Dachau or Auschwitz,” says Waitman Wade Beoran, a Holocaust and genocide studies historian at the University of Virginia. “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.”

According to Jeffrey Moy, president of the Japanese American Citizens League, a national human rights organization, “All of the incarceration sites today remind Japanese Americans of the pain our government inflicted upon us during World War II.  Reactivating sites such as Fort Sill for the purpose of incarcerating children serves only to reopen these deep emotional scars while simultaneously creating new ones in an already vulnerable population.”

The persecution of Jews in Europe and Japanese Americans in the United States began with leaders stoking fear in the public by politicizing the “other.”  This amorphous caricature is meant to dehumanize and incite hatred by turning people against one another to the benefit of the leader in power.  In addition to the Jewish and Japanese American communities, this tactic has also been used throughout history to isolate other immigrant and minority groups.

We have a moral obligation to speak out against this administration’s barbaric treatment of asylum seekers.  The current politically motivated humanitarian crisis requires an immediate and strong response from our elected leaders.

First, the US Congress should demand that the current administration immediately close down these detention camps and reunite parents and children.  We need to reduce federal funds that are being used by ICE and Customs and Border Protection to carry out family separation, workplace raids, and detention.

Second, our Massachusetts elected leaders should pass the Safe Communities Act, which would protect the due process rights of immigrant families. Lawmakers should also pass an Act Relative to Work and Family Mobility, which would allow all immigrants to have driver’s licenses.

Meet the Author

Lawrence Bailis

President, Jewish Alliance for Law and Social Action
Meet the Author

Cindy Rowe

Executive director, Jewish Alliance for Law and Social Action
Meet the Author

Kenneth Oye

Co-president, New England chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League
Meet the Author

Margaret Yamamoto

Co-president, New England chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League
In this shameful time in American history, we must not stand idly by.  Silence implies consent.  Stand up with us and our communities to make calls, attend rallies, and contact our federal and state legislators in this time of moral crisis.  We must not consent to these atrocities being inflicted in the name of all Americans.

Lawrence Bailis is president and Cindy Rowe is executive director of the Jewish Alliance for Law and Social Action.  Kenneth Oye and Margaret Yamamoto are co-presidents of the New England chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League.