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Masha Gessen: “…they are not the monsters of our collective historical imagination. They are today’s flesh-and-blood monsters, and this makes them seem somehow less monstrous.”



Masha Gessen, in the New Yorker, explains why it is literally true that we have “concentration camps” to intern refugees right here.  They have been coming to the US border to ask for asylum from unbearable conditions back home in Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala.  The connotations of “concentration camps” point to Hitler’s Nazi Germany– but, by definition, a concentration camp is a place where you lock up people, without judicial procedure, for indefinite periods under bad conditions. Camps were started to lock up political dissidents, homosexuals, and undesirables of all sorts as soon as Hitler came to power in 1933.  Jews were confined to ghettos but not systematically sent to concentration camps until 1938.  When the “final solution” was formulated, death camps were developed to take care of business– but they were separate from concentration camps.

A “concentration camp” is anywhere you want to confine a group of people whom you want to keep out of the way, whether you just want to confine them or actually exterminate them.  The lockups where ICE keeps people who surrender requesting asylum are as bad as anything you could want from Nazi Germany.  They are massively overcrowded in some cases; in others, children are forced to care for their younger siblings as there is no adult supervision.  They all share the same characteristic: people are locked up for indefinite periods without benefit of judicial process.

The sole purpose of these concentration camps is to keep refugees from being released inside the US; identifications and security checks are purposefully drawn out, tedious, and repetitious, used as an excuse to detain people longer.

The claim is that “the US is full”, but nothing could be further from the truth.  We suffer from a shortage of young, employable people.  We need young immigrants to repopulate areas of this country that have been hollowed out by emigration to the cities.  These hollowed out areas contain many older people and few young people, and they need the young to balance out their economies.

In reality, the US could use exactly the type of people who are flooding over the border: young, educable, employable, and eager to get ahead.  Those who are trying to get in to the US are not here for the welfare; they are here for a second chance at freedom.  These people would take all the jobs that Americans don’t want to take, not just picking fruit but caring for the elderly, cleaning office buildings, and many other things.

The minimum wage should be at least $15, and full unionization with complete paycheck with-holding in fully legal jobs are important too.  The status of all those with “Temporary Protected Status” should be made permanent, and people who were brought in as children should have regularized status as well.  There is no excuse for not providing a clear path to citizenship for such people.

The Republicans will of course oppose any such plan under the assumption that more citizens means more Democratic votes, but that is self-defeating.  It means that in order to carry such plans through, it will be necessary for Democrats to control the presidency, the House, and the Senate– and do something about the Supreme Court’s position.  The Supreme Court could make up reasons to declare the necessary laws unconstitutional, somewhat in the way that Roosevelt was stymied by the Court during the rollout of his New Deal.

So, a radical notion but one that kills two birds with one stone: eliminate the concentration camps of refugees and infuse young, employable people into our country to balance out our aging population (and build up the Social Security trust fund.)  From the monthly numbers of refugees detained by ICE, it appears that at least a million people a year are trying to immigrate into the US from Central America.  Who knows how many people from India and Africa would come here given the chance?

[By the way, there is a climate-change association with all this: the forced emigration of people away from hotter areas of the world near the equator towards more northern climes.  Climate change makes this inevitable, but human perversity makes it more painful than is necessary.]

(photo courtesy of and comfreak)

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