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AOC’s comment that Customs and Border Patrol operates concentration camps is non-controversial. A concentration camp is a camp where you concentrate people. Prisoners want to be with their families, in their communities, but they cannot be, because someone has forced them to live in a concentration camp.

One visitor after another reports conditions at the camps are appalling, far worse than lack of soap and toothbrushes. Children do not even have regular access to clean water, or any water at all.

Conditions in the camp do not make it a concentration camp. Concentration makes it a concentration camp. That’s why camps created to imprison Japanese Americans in the 1940s were euphemistically called internment camps, so we could avoid calling them what they actually were: concentration camps. We imprison people because we want to control and monitor them. It’s more economical to build a fence around the whole group than it is to place each person in a cage, or a cell. The economical version of a prison is called a camp. We have camps for prisoners of war, we have camps for American citizens, and now we have camps for people who seek protection from gangs, criminals, and ruthless murderers. The purpose in every case is to concentrate people in order to watch them.

Of course we could put families in concentration camps, but we have chosen to create camps especially for children and infants. These camps are necessary in order to separate children from their parents. A camp for children forcibly separated from their families is obviously a concentration camp. You could take the children to an amusement park every day, and it would still be a concentration camp. For most prison camps, even if you escape, you have no place to go. You have no one to help you, and you will die of thirst or exposure before anyone does. More likely, guards catch you to reimprison you. Concentration camps along the southern border are always distant from large population centers.

For most prison camps, even if you escape, you have no place to go.

Why was AOC one of the first politicians to call the camps at the southern border concentration camps? As we saw from the response in the press, use of the word is controversial. It should be obvious to anyone though that you do not need gas chambers and blast furnaces for crematoria to function as a concentration camp. You just need a big fence with guards, and a group of people forced inside like cattle in a corral. Even if migrant familes leave their homes in Central America with knowledge that border guards will separate parents from children, and ‘protect’ everyone while officials process individuals for deportation, you would still have to call these horrific detention centers concentration camps.

As it is, the guards would say the camps serve for ‘preventive detention’. What do they want to prevent? Escape. When you concentrate your herd in a small space, that’s precisely your purpose. You do not want your prisoners to run away.

But we like our euphemisms. Even today, we call land set aside for Native Americans reservations. They functioned as concentration camps nevertheless. They didn’t have fences and twenty-four hour guards, but if any individual or family left a reservation, U. S. law enforcement would run them down, and return them to a home they did not choose. If you refused to go back, they would throw you in a cell. If they tired of catching you, they might shoot you. We haven’t shot migrants yet, except across the border, before they even have a chance to cross.

You cannot restrict use of a word because someone else used it first. Concentration camps exist in many contexts, for purposes that differ in particulars. They do share the common qualities outlined here: forcible detention of people in one place, to monitor and control them. Whether you call it a reservation, an internment camp, a prison camp, or a concentration camp does not matter. They are all the same.

Related article

Quit arguing about what to call the migrant camps near the border. Children are dying. Don’t look away.

Comments in response to Rex Huppke’s article above

Hi Rex,

Good article, but you don’t mention a root cause of poor care for children: separation from their parents. I don’t know the exact situation at the camp in Clint, Texas, but no news report has said anything about families at the camp, only children. Whatever government has said about ending the policy of family separation, they have not done so, and I would not believe a word of what they say to begin with.

Parents find a way to take care of their children. They can advocate, pester, and constantly remind their captors the children need care. Once children are confined, separate from their parents, they are helpless. No amount of approprations can assure them good care. Border patrol can spend it on more fencing if they like. Only their parents can assure them good care.

Separating children from their parents is cruel. It is one more type of torture our government seems to have discovered. Money won’t rectify this practice. Only family reunification can.

Thanks for writing that piece,


Since writing the note above, I read an article that confirms: almost all of the children at the Clint camp had no adult to care for them. One visitor after another reports conditions at the camps are appalling, far worse than lack of soap and toothbrushes. Children do not even have regular access to clean water, or any water at all.