Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) didn’t hold back when asked about whether or not she would apologize for referring to immigrant detention centers as “concentration camps.”
Earlier this week, Ocasio-Cortez ignited a national debate over her use of the term “concentration camps” to describe the camps the Trump administration is running around the southern border with Mexico to detain undocumented immigrants and asylum-seekers. In an article for Vox.com, a Jewish historian defended her use of the term, saying that concentration camps are not unique to Nazi Germany.
“Applying the term ‘concentration camp’ to the indefinite detention without trial of thousands of civilians in inhumane conditions — under armed guard and without adequate provisions or medical care — is not just appropriate, it’s necessary,” wrote historian Anna Lind-Guzik. “Invoking the word does not demean the memory of the Holocaust. Instead, the lessons of the Holocaust will be lost if we refuse to engage with them.”
However, Republicans accused Ocasio-Cortez of trivializing the experience of Holocaust victims. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-California) said his colleague “needs to apologize not only to the nation but to the world” for her use of the term “concentration camps.”
“She does not understand what is going on at the border at the same time. But there is no comparison…and to actually say that is really embarrassing,” McCarthy said at a press conference. “To take something that happened in history where millions of Jews had died, and equate it to somewhere that’s happening on the border, she owes this nation an apology.”
The freshman Congresswoman told Nick Ballasy of The Intercept that she won’t apologize for her comments, and that if anyone should apologize, it should be McCarthy for doing nothing about what she referred to as “absolute dehumanizing conditions on the border.”
“I think he should apologize for the deliberate conflation and attack on these terms. I think he should apologize for the conditions that he’s supporting on the border. He should apologize to the children that have been separated from their parents. He should apologize for his support for widespread human rights abuses,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “And until he stops supporting the absolute dehumanizing conditions on the border, I will not apologize for holding him to account for it.”
“He should apologize to the children that have been separated from their parents,” said Rep. @AOC of GOP leader Kevin McCarthy, who demanded she apologize for calling ICE detention centers “concentration camps.” https://t.co/zf2Zdt9diu by @nicholasballasy pic.twitter.com/jjLXI0bjcV
— The Intercept (@theintercept) June 21, 2019
The conditions immigrants face in U.S. custody have been criticized as inhumane. On Tuesday, the Trump administration’s lawyers argued in federal court that it shouldn’t be forced to provide immigrant children with soap and toothbrushes, and that making them sleep on concrete floors in overcrowded cells wasn’t a violation of a previous court order requiring immigrants to be detained in “safe and sanitary” conditions.
Earlier this week, Esquire interviewed Andrea Pitzer — who authored a book on concentration camps — and a genocide lecturer at the University of Virginia. Both defined concentration camps not as a Nazi invention, but as the indefinite detainment of civilians against their will without due process.
“We have what I would call a concentration camp system,” Pitzer said, “And the definition of that in my book is, mass detention of civilians without trial.”
Tom Cahill is a contributor for Grit Post who covers political and economic news. He lives in Bend, Oregon. Send him an email at tom DOT v DOT cahill AT gmail DOT com.