Debate over calling them “concentration camps”
When US Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez claimed that the United States is “running concentration camps on our southern border” during an Instagram Live stream on June 17, 2019, she got a pushback on her comparison of U.S. immigration detention centers to Nazi concentration camps. Some Republicans and Jewish organizations claimed that her comparison “demeans” the genocide of Jews in Holocaust. Some used the academic definition of concentration camp for the debates, and some used the various elements of those two sites to prove that the detention centers are not as bad as concentration camps. Do you see how futile this debate is? What do we gain from putting two sites of human suffering in a competition for which one is worse?
Call it like it is: death pounds
Here I present a simple solution: stop comparing them and call them like they are–death pounds. (I’ve considered slaughter house first but later chose death pound because of the strong association of slaughter with animals not humans.)
My proposed term, death pound, stems from death camp. Merriam-Webster defines death camp as “a concentration camp in which large numbers of prisoners are systematically killed.” Looking at the reports of the living/dying condition inside the U.S. immigration centers, they duly qualify to be called as death camps.
1. Are they concentration camps? Yes.
Again, Merriam-Webster saves us by defining concentration camps as “a place where large numbers of people are detained or confined under armed guard”
2. Do they hold prisoners? Yes
Thank you, Merriam-Wester. MW defines a prisoner as “a person deprived of liberty and kept under involuntary restraint, confinement, or custody.”
3. Are large numbers of them being killed systematically? Yes
At least 24 immigrants have died on these border sites. The neglect and torture documented by Journalist Jonathan Katz includes “torture through sleep deprivation, freezing-cold conditions, children stuck in vans for over 37 hours, detainees confined to dog kennels, starvation, and a lack of basic medicine.” And this list only covers physical aspects of the causes of the detainees’ deaths and sufferings. (You can get more details from this New Yorker article and this report by Department of Homeland Security.)
Why death pounds, not death camps?
The term death camp might be easier for people to understand and use because it has been around for a long time, but we need to swap out the second part of this compound noun, camp, for two reasons. One, people are not merrily camping at these detention centers, and second, using the term death camp can draw the same criticism as in using the term concentration camp for the primary association of these words with holocaust.
So I brainstormed other nouns to describe these sites and looked up Google images to find what they actually look like. These images can also show us what context these words are used in.
way too high-tech, expensive, and clean
open with a lot more green nature than detention centers
It correctly implies confinement, but it usually refers to single units.
In general, pounds confine companion animals in the US, but their environment seem to be similar to that of the detention centers: crammed, substandard, exteremely uncomfortable, and deprived. Here pound would mean “a place or condition of confinement” by Merriam-Webster.
A Moment of Reservation
As you can see in the images for pound, pounds in the US usually refer to facilities for abandoned dogs. Therefore, using pound for a facility holding humans can raise a question: doesn’t it dehumanize the retainees? I would respond to this question with another one: what actually dehumanizes the people in them? the label pound or the condition and treatment of the people? Here are a few of testimonies of detained children that were collected during attorneys’ visits to Customs and Border Protection facilities in June 2019.
“We are in a metal cage with 20 other teenagers with babies and young children. We have one mat we need to share with each other. It is very cold. We each got a mylar blanket, but it is not enough to warm up. There are benches but we cannot sleep there. Sometimes it is so crowded we cannot find a place to sleep, so they allow a few of us to sleep outside the fenced area. The lights are all of the time.”
“I’m hungry here at Clint all the time. I’m so hungry that I have woken up in the
middle of the night with hunger. Sometimes I wake up from hunger at 4 a.m.,
sometimes at other hours. I’m too scared to ask the officials here for any more food, even though there is not enough food here for me.”
“At Ursula, we have not been able to shower. The toilet is out in the open in the cage, there is no door for any privacy. There is water but no soap to wash our hands. There are no paper towels to dry our hands. We have not been given a toothbrush or toothpaste to brush our teeth.”
“They told us that we could only have one layer of clothing, and they threw away the rest of our clothes in the garbage.”
These testimonies answer the question for us: the condition and treatment of detainees is inhumane. The dehumanizing nature of the term pound works because it accurately reflects the inhumane nature of the detention centers. Call it like it is.
Call them death pounds
Pound is a sad word. Death pound is even more saddening. And those are what we have on our southern border, funded by our government with our tax money.