America’s Own Death Camps

America’s Own Death Camps
Photo by Fibonacci Blue on Flickr Creative Commons

By Robert Navarro

On social media and elsewhere, there is much resort to memes and breathless discussion that compares the complex of camps along the U.S. southern border and prior “camps” as in the Holocaust and the U.S. internment camps in World War II.

Equivalences are difficult. The subjective experiences of people affected by prior atrocities are not to be disregarded. Moreover, in most cases equivalences are not necessary.

But the history of “camps” goes back a long way. The Confederacy set up a concentration or death camp in Andersonville during the Civil War. The British set up “concentration camps” in South Africa during the Boer Wars, and they were still there and used during World War I.

The Spanish set up camps in their occupation of Cuba. The Nazis were late to the game. It’s hard not to think of slavery as a 300-years-long concentration camp, likewise with “reservations” for unruly Native Americans not otherwise casualties of the genocide, and then the infamy of Japanese-American internment.

All different, all the same.

There is a complexity to the southern border that defies gingoism. The United States has been involved in “regime change” in Latin America for decades. It has done so in at least 12 countries including at least four in Central America.

Since World War II, American imperialism has not been one of occupation (Iraq excepted) but mostly through economic dominance. A country’s ability to sustain itself through diversified agriculture was lost out to foreign aid that mandated production of limited products for export (hence banana republics).

American presidents (think Eisenhower through Reagan) have tended to favor Latin American dictators who kept order (and a sizable cut of the swag), if not democracy. Such corruption inevitably breeds generational poverty (it is doing so in the United States). So, like Europeans from Russia to Ireland did throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, people leave behind systemic misery and, if they could, they would come to the United States.

In addition, America’s longest running war—the Drug War—has contributed exponential disruption and death south of the border. No less a conservative stalwart than the libertarian Cato Institute has recently found that “as a result of military and police corruption, the small arms and light weapons that the United States sends to Mexico and to several other Latin American countries in support of the war on drugs often facilitate the very crimes they were meant to stop.”

The tragedy that is El Salvador was written by cynical bards in the Drug Enforcement Agency and other dark corners of the federal government. So, for those seeking respite from entrenched chaos, Quo vadis? Quixotically, to the fount of the witches’ brew—the United States.

Thus, the migration at the border is not driven by a desire to break the law, especially by people who have not seen respect for the law in their lifetimes, but by an instinct to survive, to secure “bare existence” as Hannah Arendt said, as history has made it impossible for them to do so in their own lands.

Now, as to the camps that have been established by our current administration to deal with a vexing problem for any country—it takes a great deal of willful blindness to not see that these camps are atrocious. This administration was founded on the principle that to Make America Great Again (MAGA; an oxymoron if there ever was one) Latin Americans need to be barred from entry to the United States. This is what the candidate said ab initio, and we should take him at his word.

The principle of an impenetrable southern border has never been ameliorated over time. It has only been implemented and exacerbated.

We know that Homeland Security and the Department of Health and Human Services had no plan (none) to reunite parents with children. In terms of equivalency, that was done in the Nazi camps also and probably in most others.

We also know that the administration’s stated goal is to make conditions and procedures so egregious that they will staunch the tide of immigration. The President just recently stated that the United States is not obliged to provide soap in these camps. But that is the least of it.

Children incarcerated in cages and other facilities have died and will continue to do so through intentional, policy-driven neglect and outright racial hostility. People have committed suicide there.

There can be no denying that each camp death furthers the MAGA cause because it is a deterrent (like a severed head displayed on a pike Roman style—sorry for the equivalence).

We are speaking of tens of thousands of adults and children. When an administration operates a “camp” in which it has no interest in the preservation of life, families or even human dignity, where such concepts are in fact antithetical to that administration’s overt policy, and in which deaths occur because of that policy, one can calmly, logically and with evidentiary support designate such places as Death Camps without need of comparison.

And, as with climate change, you (and the rest of the North) ain’t seen nothing yet.


Robert Navarro is a criminal defense and civil rights attorney and vice president of Fresno Filmworks. Contact him at


  • Community Alliance

    The Community Alliance is a monthly newspaper that has been published in Fresno, California, since 1996. The purpose of the newspaper is to help build a progressive movement for social and economic justice.

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