Are Migrant Detention Centers Concentration Camps?

Ava Rosenow

Immigration detention centers are meant to be a holding place for people who have violated US immigration laws, whether they entered the country illegally, abused their visa, or committed some other type of misdemeanor. Recently, many people have been making the argument that these so-called “detention centers” are beginning to resemble World War II-era concentration camps. Concentration camps were massive prisons where people who the Nazi Party deemed political enemies of Germany were held, worked to death, and killed, without trial. Millions of Jewish people and millions of others were enslaved in these institutions, and now history may be repeating itself. 

The New York Intelligencer called the conditions of the detention centers “indisputably inhumane,” reporting atrocities such as 155 people being held in a cell meant for 41 and children being contained in vans for almost 39 hours. Not only are individuals being subjected to this brutality, but most of the people who are forced to endure the torture of detention centers haven’t even committed a crime; they are asylum seekers. Apart from this everyday torment, detainees are subject to solitary confinement for ridiculous reasons, for example, being transgender. Solitary confinement is so barbaric that the United Nations deemed it “cruel and unusual.” Concentration camps shared many of the savage features of Immigration Detention Centers, like overcrowding, unwarranted punishments, and being held without trial. 

Although people are not being outright murdered in the detention centers like they were in concentration camps, some private detention centers are rumored to be forcing detainees to work, which was a characteristic of Nazi concentration camps. According to the New York Times, “privately run immigrant detention centers are coercing detainees into working for a dollar a day and punishing those who don’t.” The 13th Amendment states that both indentured servitude and slavery are illegal, and may only be used in the case of punishment for a crime. However, these detainees have not been convicted of a crime and are in civil confinement, therefore making their forced labor illegal. 

Another horrifying quality of concentration camps was the strip searches that the prisoners would have to endure, where the Nazis would confiscate their personal items and valuables. Although ICE theoretically prohibits strip-searching detainees without a reasonable cause, the Essex County Detention Center is strip-searching migrants when they are moved from one part of the facility to another without any explanation. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) stated in a letter that “the current migration flow and the resulting humanitarian crisis are rapidly overwhelming the ability of the Federal Government to respond,” and the Office of Inspector General reported that “we are concerned that overcrowding and prolonged detention represent an immediate risk to the health and safety not just of the detainees, but also DHS agents and officers. Border Patrol management on site said there is a high incidence of illness among their staff.” 

With basic human rights being violated, disease running rampant, and uninhabitable conditions, detention centers are starting to resemble the concentration camps of World War II. If these obvious similarities are not enough to scare American civilians and politicians into action, nothing will, and our country will continue to spiral further and further into this barbaric situation.

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