“They don’t want eyeballs on the actual conditions of these places,” said Amy Cohen, a doctor who consults on cases involving the 1993 Flores settlement, which continues to govern the conditions for children in immigration custody. “What they tell you is that they are protecting the privacy of these children. That makes no sense. What we need to be doing is protecting the lives of these children. And unfortunately, that does not seem to be a priority of the government.”
The journalist Jonathan Katz argued in May that given the intent behind these facilities, and the conditions that migrants are being held in, they are best described as a concentration-camp system in the United States. That assessment was echoed by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who was promptly accused of trivializing the Holocaust. “Allegations that somehow the United States is operating in a way that is in any way a parallel to the Holocaust is just completely ludicrous,” Representative Liz Cheney wrote. Although Ocasio-Cortez did not mention the Holocaust, the association between the Shoah and concentration camps is strong, and attacking an opponent for hyperbole is easier than defending the torture of children—not that Cheney is at all opposed to torture.
The reaction to Ocasio-Cortez is unsurprising. Whatever the merits of her criticism, when those in power are caught abusing that power in ways that are morally indefensible and politically unpopular, they will always seek to turn an argument about oppression into a dispute about manners. The conversation then shifts from the responsibility of the state for the human lives it is destroying to whether those who object to that destruction have exhibited proper etiquette. If congressional Republicans—or, for that matter, their constituents—had expressed a fraction as much outrage over the treatment of migrant children in American detention facilities as they did in response to Ocasio-Cortez’s remarks, she would never have had cause to make them in the first place.
This variety of tut-tutting is irresistible to many ostensibly objective journalists, who by convention are barred from expressing opinions on policy but are welcome to lecture on tone, and take nearly every opportunity to remind the rabble of their obligation to be polite to their rulers. But to express outrage at the criticism of nefarious conduct while treating that conduct as a typical political conflict in which there are two equally valid positions is to take a side.
Definitely read the whole thing — the comparison with Andersonville is particularly apt. Happy 4th of July!