The “Concentration Camps” Have Existed Since Clinton

Ryan Lau | @RyanLau71R

Recently, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has drawn criticism for her comment about ICE detention centers. On June 18th, she asserted that the Trump administration has established concentration camps near the border with Mexico. But these camps are not just Trump’s problem.

From a technical standpoint, this isn’t untrue; there are camps and the government is concentrating people at them. Ocasio-Cortez, though, is ignoring the obvious connotation that “concentration camp” carries: the forced-labor institutions of the Holocaust that targeted a group of people based on their religion and/or ethnicity. In that sense, ICE detention centers do not resemble Nazi camps in the slightest. In fact, they aren’t even all that similar to the Japanese internment camps present within the United States.

However, the most peculiar part of her statement is that she appears to place all of the blame for these detention centers on the Trump administration. Though the president is wrong for continuing this policy, mandatory detention has existed since 1996 and steadily escalated since.

Clinton Expands the “Concentration Camps”

Though not as widely known today, Bill Clinton was a very strong advocate against illegal immigration. In 1996, he passed the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act. This expanded the border fence, made it harder for illegal immigrants to go to college, and expanded the ability for the government to deport illegal immigrants.

President Clinton thus began the bitter march forward into the immorality that still exists today. From 1996 to 1998, the number of immigrants in detention centers (which, at the time, nobody had even thought to call concentration camps) nearly doubled, spiking from 8,500 to 16,000. Studies have found that his actions negatively impacted the physical and mental health of illegal immigrants.

Bush and Obama Crack Down

Following 9/11, xenophobia was running high in the country, and for an understandable reason. But George Bush took Clinton’s work a step further. In 2003, as a division of the new Department of Homeland Security, he formed the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency, which we now know as ICE.

Under Bush, the number of immigrants in detention doubled again, reaching 30,000. He also saw the beginning of Secure Communities, a program that helped to identify, hold, and deport illegal immigrants.

Unfortunately, Barack Obama took the actions of Clinton and Bush and blew them through the roof. In the first two years of his presidency, Obama expanded the number of Secure Communities from 14 to 1210. In that time, the program caused an additional 140,000 detentions and 72,000 deportations. But in total, even this is a drop in the bucket for Obama.

Over the course of his presidency, President Obama deported more illegal immigrants than any other president in history. In fact, his 2.9 million people deported is, so far, at a higher rate than even President Trump. It far exceeds the amount (2 million) that the government deported in 105 years from 1892 to 1997. But it gets worse; the immigrants in detention often faced grossly inhumane conditions that rival or even surpass that of the Trump administration.

Obama-era Inhumanity

Ocasio-Cortez has fervently defended her accusation regarding concentration camps. With it, she appears to strongly blame the Trump administration for them, as her numerous tweets on the issue suggest. The facts contradict her assertion; Trump actually inherited the problem. Though he is certainly making blunders in regards to it, he did not start this.

In 2015, NPR broke a story that showed still pictures of illegal immigrants in detention centers. Many wrapped themselves in foil space blankets, not having anything else to keep warm in the frigid camps (which many Spanish-speaking detainees have not-so-affectionately dubbed “las hieleras”, the freezers). The centers also had trash strewn about them, and it was quite obvious that the guards cared little for the wellbeing of the detainees.

Around the same time, the American Immigration Council and the American Civil Liberties Union have sued the president for the actions on the border. They state that numerous detainees were denied the food and water that they needed to comfortably survive. They also did not have access to legal advice or medical help, according to the suit.

Hypocrisy on Concentration Camps

Why, then, has nobody called these facilities concentration camps before? It appears that the abhorrences under Obama were fairly similar to those under Trump. But regardless of any similarities or difference, it’s clear that these facilities have met Ocasio-Cortez’s definition of a concentration camp for decades.

Where has Ocasio-Cortez been for the past couple of decades? Granted, she’s a relative political newcomer. But she’s also not the only person to have made these claims about detention centers under Trump. A handful of scholars and politicians have made similar claims in recent weeks, and thousands of Twitter users have echoed the same sentiment. It appears, therefore, that their condemnation of the camps is not consistent. Regardless of whether or not these are truly concentration camps, anyone who calls them such should do so consistently.

Fitting the Narrative

President Trump, over the course of his term and campaign alike, has received many ridiculous comparisons to Hitler, fascism, and the Nazi regime as a whole. The concentration camps remark appears to be the latest in a long line of stretched claims for political gain.

Nobody called Obama a fascist, but he operated the same camps as Trump. It’s not like anybody is in the dark, as the NPR story made major national attention. Stories dating as far back as 2012 detail the deaths, abuses, and bitter cold in the detention centers.

In fact, actress Nancy Lee Grahn even used pictures taken during Obama’s presidency as evidence of Trump’s wrongdoing. Without a doubt, partisanism is choking the country brutally. When opponents do something wrong, the fascists are ruling. When teammates do the same thing? Just another day in the American political machine.


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