Historian details how Trump's immigrant detention could follow the terrifying path of past concentration camps

Historian details how Trump's immigrant detention could follow the terrifying path of past concentration camps
Photo by Dominique A. Pineiro

Andrea Pitzer is a historian who has specialized in the progression of concentration camps, and she has issued a disturbing warning about the path the United States is headed down with President Donald Trump's confinement of immigrants.


In a Twitter thread written in response to a report about a botched attempt to reunite migrant children who had been separated from their families — and attempt that left kids between the ages of 5 and 12 waiting in vans in a parking lot for up to 39 hours — Pitzer warned that the situation is likely to worsen, and it's unlikely anyone will stop it.

"I'm not sure the public understands the detention crisis that's been created and stoked by the US government," she wrote. "Things are going to get worse in so many ways. If history is a guide, we can already guess what some of them will be. Others we can hardly imagine."

She continued: "We now have a *massive* & growing camp system, with no powerful opposition in sight. Though there's a chance protest could work in the US (despite the fact that it hasn't happened in other cases), people aren't in the streets every night, demanding an end to the camps."

And the usual systems that are usually supposed to stand in the way of an abusive president or executive branch are unlikely to be of much help.

"Big camp systems don't close themselves," she said. "Legislatures have never closed them against the will of an executive. This Supreme Court seems inclined to give the executive power it's historically had access to, even if that power might appear to be abused in current circumstances."

The court may impose limits and half-measures to stymie that administration's expansion of the camps, she suggested. This is what happened in with the prison at Guantanamo Bay, which remains open even after President Barack Obama tried to close it for eight years.

She also noted that American institutions did decide to close down Japanese internment camps before the end of World War II, but she doubted the Supreme Court would take similar steps now.

And as horrible as the existence of these camps are in many ways, they can always get worse.

"The longer a camp system stays open, the more predictable things will go wrong (contagious diseases, malnutrition, mental health issues). In addition, every significant camp system has also introduced new horrors of its own, that were unforeseen when that system was opened," she wrote. "So, to sum up this brief sketch, the longer camps stay open, the worse they get, [especially] if they survive their existential crisis & pass a 3- or 4-year mark. I don't see any current force in the US able & willing to close them, short of popular protest, which isn't happening yet."

It's possible, of course, that a force will arise in American politics to oppose the camps, she said. But there's no sign of it on the horizon.

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