“This is sick.”
This is what California Gov. Gavin Newsome tweeted in response to the Trump administration’s plan to intern more than a thousand refugee children at Fort Sill, an Oklahoma army base formerly used as an internment camp for Japanese Americans during World War II.
As Time first reported:
“The agency [U.S. Department of Health and Human Services] said Fort Sill will be used ‘as a temporary emergency influx shelter’ to help ease the burden on the government as it prepares to house a record number of minors even though it already operates about 168 facilities and programs in 23 states.“
Fort Sill is located southwest of Oklahoma City. Between 1942 and 1946, it served as one of several sites across the country at which an estimated 120,000 forcibly removed men, women, and children of Japanese descent were incarcerated. Later it was used to detain German prisoners of war.
In his tweet, Calif. Gov. Newsom added:
“We will look back at this moment in time and ask ourselves what we did to put a stop to these horrific, inhumane policies. Speak up. Speak out. Be on the right side of history.”
At this rate, we will surpass 2016’s record figures of 59,171.
The administration has been consistent in its defense it is merely perpetuating what its predecessor did.
This is partly accurate, although not the whole story.
Those shelters were shuttered four months later.
Obama shouldn’t have relocated those children to those former bases. That was a mistake.
But the key thing to remember is those shelters were shuttered four months later.
Obama did not continue the practice.
For someone who is hanging his presidency on how far he can distance himself–and the country–from the first African American president’s legacy, Trump sure is kicking this particular embarrassment into high gear.
It’s gotten worse.
Acting Customs and Border Patrol Commissioner John Sanders told Rolling Stone:
“We are in a full-blown emergency, and I cannot say this stronger, the system is broken.”
Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan told reporters children were being detained longer than law permits because of a dearth of facilities’ beds.
Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) spokesman Mark Weber disagreed. He told reporters:
“Shelters have beds available and they are ready to receive UAC [unaccompanied alien children] when processed by DHS.”
No matter how we try to explain it away, we are running concentration camps at our Southern border.
Every month we are discovering more horrors to which we are subjecting people whose only crime is trying to gain asylum from violence responsible for tearing their countries and lives apart.
Last June, the Trump administration tested the limits of its anti-immigrant stance by admitting (after denying) and reaffirming its practice of divorcing refugee children from their parents crossing into the United States.
Then we learned of another atrocity.
According to legal affidavits filed April 23, 2018 in U.S. District Court in California, refugee children in U.S. custody were being injected with psychotropic drugs that inflict dizziness, lethargy, and sometimes incapacitation.
In September, the Trump administration transferred $9.8 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) disaster relief budget to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for more migrant detention camps.
Then came news in November that Customs and Border Protection (CBP) unleashed a tear gas attack on unarmed men, women, and children asylum seekers.
In January, an Office of Inspector General (OIG) report revealed not only did the U.S. government separate thousands more children from their parents than previously thought; it was separating them before authorities admitted a child separation policy was in place, which former Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen initially denied existed.
Then in March, NBC KNSD-TV obtained documents confirming CBP officers have a list of 59 individuals, mostly American journalists, lawyers, and activists, intended to be stopped and questioned at San Diego-area checkpoints for meeting with or aiding asylum seekers from the Honduran caravan on the Mexican side of the border.
This past April, we learned U.S. immigration officials are penning in hundreds behind chain-link razor wire fencing and forcing them to sleep on the ground in a temporary outdoor detention camp beneath the Paso Del Norte International Bridge linking Ciudad Juarez and El Paso, Texas.
Despite the administration’s insistance its zero-tolerance approach toward the asylum seeker is working, arrests at the border have risen to intensities comparable to the 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s, when they were at their highest.
Clearly what the Trump administration is doing is failing.
What this administration hasn’t done is attempt to address the economic and social conditions causing people to pick up and risk life and limb to venture thousands of miles with their families, hoping to start a new life in the United States.
Instead, Trump accused Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador–the countries he called “shitholes“–of “arranging” the migrant caravans of which he told us we should all be afraid, and threatened to cut off their aid.
What this administration also hasn’t done is address the threat of climate change partly responsible for deteriorating conditions in those countries, making them uninhabitable.
It has instead continued to deny climate change’s emergency and even hailed the melting Arctic as “opening new passageways and new opportunities for trade.”
Arguably our greatest president, at least in modern times, Franklin Roosevelt, authorized the Japanese-American internment camps via executive order.
Roosevelt was a great president, but this was wrong.
Obama was wrong.
And Trump is even more wrong in ramping it up.
We are creating a disaffected, marginalized, and undervalued generation.
How many of these kids at the border will be so damaged they will lead lives of crime and chaos?
We can do better.
This is not America.
Image credit: www.flickr.com