Stop the Normalization of Concentration Camps

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

After dragging its feet for months, the Democratic Party has finally launched an impeachment inquiry against Donald Trump. While this is welcome news, there is a danger that we will become transfixed by the proceedings in Washington and stop organizing the resistance against Trump, especially against his racist war on immigrants and refugees.

That would be a tragic mistake. We must not let him normalize Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids, arrests, internment of adults and, yes, children, in concentration camps, and mass deportation. Impeachment will not stop any of these atrocities.

In fact, as Trump’s rule is put in jeopardy, he will turn to even more extreme white supremacist attacks on immigrants and refugees. He will use these to rally his base and deflect their attention from his blatant giveaways to the rich and betrayal of all his promises to workers and farmers.

His racist tirade at a recent campaign rally in Minnesota is a taste of things to come. He whipped the crowd into a frenzy, boasting about his assaults on immigrants and warning that if the Democrats returned to power the state would face “unvetted, uncontrolled migration at levels you have never seen before.”

In an outburst of Islamophobia against Somali refugees, he bragged, “in the Trump administration, we will always protect American families first, and that has not been done in Minnesota. We will not make the mistakes made in European countries and allow a violent ideology to take root in our country on our shores; we’re not going to allow it to happen.”

He went on to denounce Minnesota’s Democratic Congresswoman Ilhan Omar as an “America-hating socialist” and a “disgrace.” Such McCarthyism and bigotry will encourage his extremist devotees to engage in more hate crimes, already at record levels against Latinos, and terrorist attacks like those against Jews at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh and Latinos at a mall in El Paso.

There should be no doubt about the violent aspirations of Trump’s supporters. Case in point is the video some of them created depicting Trump rampaging through “the Church of Fake News” like some deranged reincarnation of Rambo. He fires a machine gun and wields a wooden stake to massacre representatives of the media as well as Black Lives Matter and politicians from John McCain to Bernie Sanders and Barack Obama.

All of this makes clear that Trump’s attacks on immigrants will intensify and with deadly consequence for them and everyone else. Already this year, his administration has arrested 1 million immigrants, rivalling China’s mass incarceration of Uighurs in its own concentration camps.

Trump and his racist advisor Stephen Miller launched this campaign in March, in secret policy meetings recently exposed by the New York Times. In a deranged rant, Trump ordered his cabinet to shut down the US/Mexico border; finish his medieval wall, electrify it, and top it with flesh piercing spikes; dig a moat and fill it with snakes and alligators; and give the green light to Border Patrol and ICE to shoot migrants.

While Trump failed to enact his most sadistic fantasies, he did unleash ICE and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to continue their reign of terror against immigrants, jailing tens of thousands in concentration camps. All of this provoked a wave of protests this summer spearheaded by Jewish activists in Never Again and joined by thousands of immigrants and their supporters across the country.

But with impeachment dominating the headlines and offering the comforting illusion that it will end the attacks on immigrants and refugees, activism has dipped this fall. This means Trump’s ongoing and new attacks are not being opposed.

Tens of thousands are still being held in concentration camps, CBP still polices the border, and ICE continues to engage in surveillance, arrests, deportations, and raids on workplaces as they did in Mississippi.

Trump is already opening up new fronts in this crusade against migrants. In an act of inhuman cruelty, he suspended vaccinations in the camps, leading medical experts to condemn Trump not only for threatening the health of the migrants, but also risking epidemics in the broader population.

Trump has expanded the US border regime throughout the hemisphere. He has imposed a new “Remain in Mexico” policy that orders the Border Patrol to turn refugees back to Mexico where they must wait in horrific conditions for their asylum hearings.

He is turning Mexico into Washington’s gendarme. He force it to deploy its National Guard to stop migrants on its southern border and implemented a new policy that denies refugees the right to asylum until they can prove they were refused it in Mexico or other Central American countries.

He has cut the number of asylum seekers the US will admit to an all-time low of 18,000. He is also trying to ram through a “public charge rule” that would require legal immigrants to prove before admitted to the country that they will not need Medicaid or any other public benefits, something that will discriminate against poor people, especially women.

Corporations like Core Civic and the Geo Group are cashing in on this brutal border regime, securing enormous contracts with the US government. Indeed, the Transnational Institute reports that federal contracts with such corporations will soar from $305 billion in 2011 to $740 billion by 2023.

Far from resisting Trump’s war on immigrants, the Democrats have taken their eye off the issue to focus on impeachment. This should come as no surprise. While the Democrats are not as brutal or bigoted as Trump, they have proved that they are no friend of immigrants and refugees. Obama and the Democratic Party’s crackdown on immigrants actually paved the way for Trump’s even more vicious policies.

Remember the Obama administration deported more immigrants—three million—than any other in history. His proposed but never enacted Comprehensive Immigration Reform, which forms the policy basis for all the party’s presidential contenders, includes border enforcement, enormous obstacles to legalization, and the continuation of ICE surveilling, arresting, detaining, and deporting undocumented immigrants.

The clear and present danger is that we will wait in vain for impeachment or the next election to bring an end to the attack on immigrants. This would allow Trump to make concentration camps and ICE’s reign of terror the new normal. We cannot let this happen, but instead must increase our activism in defense of immigrant and refugee rights.

Ashley Smith is a socialist writer and activist in Burlington, Vermont. He has written for various publications including Harper’s, Truthout, Jacobin, and New Politics.