On any given day, there are nearly 40,000 immigrants detained in U.S. custody. Many of these detention centers are run by for-profit corporations that have limited oversight, yet receive substantial profits from the U.S. government. Reports show that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and some of these companies made contributions to Trump’s presidential campaign, and many implement slave-like practices of paying a meager $1-$3 a day for manual labor.
Public access to these facilities is often strictly prohibited, and few have access to see what the conditions are like inside, but revelations have been damning. Physicians report a lack of access to proper medical care, where babies and young children are especially vulnerable to both physical and psychological trauma. The poor conditions are reflected by the recent deaths of two small children who were being held within this horrific system.
U.S. Representative Joaquin Castro from Texas recently said that the camp environments were “subhuman,” describing scenes of “people who are strewn on the floor covered in Mylar blankets, which look like foil. They are body-to-body and literally step all over each other.” Recently uncovered videos showed staffers shoving and pushing migrant children.
An investigation revealed that “sexual assault and harassment in immigration detention are not only widespread but systemic, and enabled by an agency that regularly fails to hold itself accountable.” In the face of such atrocities, there’s little accountability or recourse for its victims. The ACLU points out that “the immigration system contains an unnecessary and unconstitutional lack of rights that is unheard of in the criminal justice system.” Many immigrants are seeking asylum but aren’t being granted the proper legal channels to obtain it, and the current administration is stonewalling tens of thousands of people desperately in need of it. Legal aid of any kind is extremely hard to obtain, despite constitutional guarantees and the lip service paid by politicians eager to maintain a positive public image.
‘Internment’ is defined as “the state of being confined as a prisoner, especially for political or military reason.” Trump’s constant fearmongering at the expense of immigrants and asylum seekers leaves little doubt that those who are now “detained” are political pawns being used for the benefit of Trump and his supporters. The hyperbolic criminal descriptions of the migrant caravan and subsequent troop deployment by the president prior to the midterm elections suggests a willingness by the administration to exploit this vulnerable population no matter the cost.
“Detention camps” is the common term used to describe the places where immigrants are held, and we’re now living in a country whose government is willfully incarcerating people for the sake of gaining political leverage. Years from now, our children and grandchildren will look upon this era with incredulousness and shame, and they’ll inevitably ask: How did you allow this to happen?
The fact that tens of thousands of people are being held in camps is reminiscent of the 1940s, when the public safety of white Protestant Americans was perceived to be threatened by Japanese citizens during WWII. Mass hysteria drove government officials to rip these citizens from their homes, forcing them to abandon their property, businesses, and possessions, and placed them in internment camps. There are major differences to when more than 110,000 U.S. citizens of Japanese descent were unjustly rounded up, and comparisons should never diminish or downplay the atrocities they experienced — but there are notable similarities.
First, under the guise of “national security” and “safety,” a large non-white population was imprisoned by a Caucasian government. These internment camps were referred to as “assembly and relocation centers” and were propagated as places where “the Japanese could be given protection.” Press reports about these camps, approved by military screeners, sent gilded descriptions of cheer and positivity, as if the government were doing these inhabitants a great favor.
Secondly, nativist sentiment fueled by anxiety related to crime and violence were propagated by politicians and military leaders to rationalize such inhumane actions. Army General John Dewitt rationalized the roundup at the time by exclaiming, “A Jap’s a Jap. They are a dangerous element, whether loyal or not.” Like the 1940s, some of the only resentment to such barbaric policies was motivated by a loss of profit due to a shortage of manual labor.
In an article titled “Jap Ban to Force Farm Adjustments,” a writer for the San Francisco News reported that “Strawberries are nearly 100 percent under the control of Japanese,” one farm authority said. “The work requires the most arduous form of ‘stoop labor’ and much of it must be done on hands and knees. It is impossible to get any other type of labor than Japanese to stand the pace of the nine-month season.”
Unfortunately, Americans in the 1940s provided a precedent that has been repeated today. A Smithsonian article notes that “In a December 1942 Gallup poll, only 35 percent of Americans had agreed that ‘the Japanese who were moved inland from the Pacific coast should be allowed to return’ after the war. Most who responded ‘no’ wanted the internees deported.”
Despite being one of our nation’s most shameful acts, our government is dangerously close to resurrecting internment camps, where people made in the divine image of God are caged and mistreated for the sake of partisan agendas. Because of disinformation about national security — just like what happened the 1940s — people are succumbing to an anti-Christian message of deportation and exclusion.
Populist fear, greed, and white supremacy have been constant American traditions, and now migrants are receiving the full brunt of these evils.
In the 1980s, Congress admitted that Japanese internment camps were a “grave injustice” brought about by “racial prejudice, war hysteria, and the failure of political leadership.” But here we are again.
It’s time to demand change from elected leaders and mobilize our spiritual communities to passionately fight against these injustices.
As followers of Jesus, we’re commanded to love God and love others above all else. Therefore, the most loving response to migrants is always the most Christ-like. Building walls and demonizing others doesn’t reflect the character we’re called to have as believers, but providing love, joy, and peace is.
May we be peacemakers who help, empower, and bring freedom to the migrants being held at the border. This is the way of Jesus.
God help us.