by Jarred Bean
The Trump administration is guilty of ethnic cleansing. They’re guilty of creating concentration camps and instituting border ghettoes for asylum seekers. They’re guilty of condemning more Americans to death in the wake of Hurricane Maria than died on 9/11 - all because this administration views Puerto Ricans as second class citizens.
And now, due to the combination of Trump’s incompetence, vindictiveness and corruption in handling the coronavirus response and the administration’s vindictiveness in denying basic nutrition, health, and hygiene standards in the very camps they’ve created, we’re headed towards something even worse.
We’re careening towards a genocide.
Too many people, both adults and children, have already died in our detention camps, and scores of families have been and continue to be torn apart by official (now unconstitutional) and de facto child separation policies. Countless more face death and violence upon deportation (a trend documented back to previous presidencies, but will only grow precipitously as the Trump regime ignores valid claims for asylum and expands deportation proceedings for everyone in the country regardless of removal priority), and our administration has signed insidious agreements that send asylum seekers directly to the very countries many are desperately trying to flee. Our Remain in Mexico policy has pushed people - largely those who directly qualify for asylum and would have been allowed in the country to move freely under any other administration - to live in squalid conditions that can only be described as ghettoes where they face rampant physical and sexual abuse, extoriton, and death. Who knows what the human cost there has already been, or what the death toll has been as desperate people venture into unsafe territory to cross the border away from our sealed-off ports of entry? We’ve seen the photos of adults and children who have drowned trying to cross the Rio Grande and very recently learned of the young pregnant woman who died when she fell trying to climb our xenophobic border wall, but we have no way to truly assess the unseen human toll caused by our longstanding deterrence-by-desert or our attacks on relief supplies and humanitarian workers.
All of this falls neatly under the banner of ethnic cleansing.
Separation of children from their families and ethnic groups, potentially putting many we have no clear way of reuniting into orphanage systems, is a form of ethnic cleansing that we specifically have a long history of perpetrating against Native American communities.
The creation of our detention facilities, which are often privately run and almost universally have records of poor hygiene, nutrition, and medical care and are notoriously cold and subject to rampant abuse, fall into the textbook definition of concentration camps and exist for the sole purpose of isolating ethnic minorities from the general population (it’s been explicitly stated by some in the government and in conservative media that we need to preserve a White America).
The metering of our ports of entry and the virtual stoppage of asylum approvals as our country pushed scores of immigrants into those aforementioned open air ghettoes certainly meet the definition of ethnic cleansing, as the sole purpose is to prevent black and brown immigrants from exercising their right to immigrate to the country via legal means. It’s nothing more than an end run around our legal immigration system to preserve a vision of the United States where the only type of immigrant that can enter are those who can afford exorbitant fees and get through on a merit-based system that flies in the face of how our country came to be. The net result of Trump’s - and Stephen Miller’s - proposed changes is a system that favors more affluent, whiter immigrants. The travel ban - itself an affront to our immigration system on purely ethnic and religious grounds - further underscores that fact.
We already exist in a system where these forms of ethnic cleansing are perpetrated by our country, but the breadth of this work has been contracted out to private companies where human suffering coincides with corporate profit and outsourced to countries (Mexico via MPP and El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras via asylum agreements) where violence against human beings with a legal claim to US protection occurs in an environment where our government can claim it owns no blame.They essentially devised as many ways as possible to exert the most cruelty possible without having to assume responsibility, which is particularly galling given how we are knowingly sending asylum seekers to countries with the highest murder rates in the western hemisphere.
As the world has watched the pandemic of Coronavirus explode around the world, the United States has proven particularly ill-equipped to protect even the people it claims responsibility for...
Even with all this, we’re reaching a new phase in the patterns of ethnic cleansing we’ve already witnessed. As the world has watched the pandemic of Coronavirus explode around the world, the United States has proven particularly ill-equipped to protect even the people it claims responsibility for due to incompetence at the highest levels of governance. If it has responded so poorly to protect everyday Americans, what hope is there for those in the prison system, in our concentration camps, or in the ghettoes we created across the border?
There was a time not long ago when the public consciousness was made to grapple with what, exactly, the cruelty of the Trump administration towards immigrants amounted to. Some activists, journalists, academics, politicians, and even victims of past ethnic violence made the clear case that the tactics we were seeing rose to these labels, while others were left hand-wringing over whether the semantics, however technically accurate they may be, distracted from the “real” issues.
It should now be clear how necessary it is that we call the administration out for exactly what it’s doing, especially as we enter what may be the midnight hour for many caught up in the kafkaesque dragnet that is our immigration system.
When we think of ethnic cleansing, we think of genocide. We think of the Holocaust first and foremost, followed by maybe Sudan or Kosovo or possibly now the Armenian genocide. We are absolutely ill-equipped to think of our current immigration system as one perpetuating an ethnic cleansing in real time, but we frankly need to get over that hang-up. We are the nation that committed genocide against Native Americans and placed Japanese Americans in internment camps (concentration camps by any other name) not so long ago. We are a nation built upon slavery and Jim Crow. We are a nation that rips apart families and even goes as far as to torture pregnant women because the apparatus we built allows for it.
When you read that link about how ICE forced a young mother, who only tried crossing the border with her family in the first place because they were placed at risk of physical harm in our border ghettoes, to give birth with her pants literally still on her body and refused her the right to shower for days after giving birth, ask yourself if that reads any different than some of the horrifying cases documented in Nazi Germany.
When we think of concentration camps, we likely only think about the Holocaust. Nothing else feels quite as methodical or evil as the system of concentration and, in particular, death camps put in place by the Nazi regime. Few think of the concentration camps put in place by the British during the Boer War in South Africa. Few think of the Spanish concentration camps in Cuba during roughly this same period. In both cases, it wasn’t a system of death camps that led to the incredibly high death toll. It was a lack of hygiene and food. Sickness and disease did the hard work for them.
We know how much detained migrants are at risk from the coronavirus due to overcrowding, poor healthcare and hygiene, and poor nutrition, and there has already been a massive outcry from advocates, experts, and officials to close the camps and empty the ghettoes in an effort to prevent mass death. If the US doesn’t do so, it is actively choosing to go beyond the ethnic cleansing tactics it has already embraced and is explicitly choosing to embrace genocide by way of a weaponized pandemic.
If the coronavirus continues to spread to people with likely already weakened immune systems in the ghettoes along the border or the concentration camps here at home, this pandemic could do that same work for us.
And we’ll excuse it by any other name.
Jarred Bean is a writer and analyst working in the New York City Department of Education. Coming from a working class family in North Carolina, he has gone on to live in and serve working class communities in the US and abroad. He has previously written for Brand New Congress.