Felipe Gómez Alonzo died on Christmas Eve 2018. He was eight years old. According to The Guardian, at least twelve other immigrants died in ICE detention last year. Total border apprehensions for May 2019 alone are 144,278. Apprehensions for all of 2018 were 521,000.
Internment camps, or concentration camps, rarely ever “disappear” once they are created. As Andrea Pitzer, author of One Long Night: A Global History of Concentration Camps, put it on Twitter:
As she and many others have noted, Nazi concentration camps did not open with full-fledged gas chambers and a killing machine. That began in 1941. Instead, the camps began as a way to deal with the “undesirable” Jewish population. As Hannah Arendt says in her work, The Origins of Totalitarianism:
All discussions about the refugee problems revolved around this one question: How can the refugee be made deportable again? The second World War and the DP [Displaced Persons] camps were not necessary to show that the only practical substitute for a nonexistent homeland was an internment camp. Indeed, as early as the thirties this was the only “country” the world had to offer the stateless.
Even the Nazis started their extermination of Jews by first depriving them of all legal status (the status of second-class citizenship) and cutting them off from the world of the living by herding them into ghettos and concentration camps; and before they set the gas chambers into motion they had carefully tested the ground and found out to their satisfaction that no country would claim these people. The point is that a condition of complete rightlessness was created before the right to live was challenged.
While the Nazis have may have built internment camps mostly for political expediency, American camps are profiting a handful of private-prison corporations. According to the San Francisco Chronicle (Oct. 2018):
Since 2002, the average number of detained immigrants has nearly doubled — a huge windfall for the private contractors that house almost three-quarters of this population at $134 a day for every adult in detention. The two largest private prison companies, GEO Group and CoreCivic, have netted a combined total of almost $400 million from Department of Homeland Security contracts since Trump took office. The portion of their revenue derived from Immigration and Customs Enforcement business has almost doubled over the past decade.
And so we have a recipe to satisfy xenophobes and corporate oligarchs alike. A system of depriving refugees of their freedom, allowing them to die from neglect (much like the Russians did in Stalin’s camps), and providing monetary incentive to continue to do it. No doubt we’ll see some refugees “put to work” the way that concentration camps were forced to in Nazi Germany. Free labor is always attractive.
This is the system that America is building. We are unlikely to “unbuild it,” even after Trump leaves office, if he ever does. Evil has a way of begetting evil.
The body count that is steadily accruing at our border must also include the many American citizens who die from lack of healthcare and unaffordable drugs, who die of opioid addiction and other deaths of despair, or who simply slip through the cracks and die on the streets, their mental-health issues unaddressed. All of these lives, whether immigrant or American, have value. So when Nancy Pelosi says “it’s not worth it” to impeach Trump, or “she’d rather see him in prison,” she is deflecting and avoiding her duty as House Speaker.
We are faced with an administration with an authoritarian mindset, which is ignoring the law and is befouled by deep corruption. The House, which is now Democratic thanks to the “2018 Blue Wave,” has a duty to act to limit the harm that this administration is causing to millions of people. We are not living in normal times. “Politics as usual” are not working and may never work again. “Waiting for 2020” is a fool’s game. Meanwhile, Nancy Pelosi’s body count continues to rise.
If Speaker Pelosi cannot summon herself to do what is right, it is incumbent on the House Democrats to remove her from her post. The executive branch daily thumbs its nose at Congress, and we may soon face a day in which Congress has no power left to check this petty tyrant. The 2016 elections, if you have read even part of the Mueller Report, were arguably illegitimate. There is no reason to expect 2020 to be any different. Act now, Congress. While you still can.