Generally speaking, a good way to gauge if someone is guilty of something is to see how much they have to go out of their way to deny that thing. If a person is constantly doing interviews to try to disprove they’re not a serial misogynist, racist or corrupt, then odds are that there’s a pretty good case against them. When Richard Nixon declared at his podium that he wasn’t a crook, it was because he most certainly was a crook (how many of our state legislators have found themselves in the same situation in recent years?). When people start stories with, “I’m not racist, but ...,” they’re about to prove to you that they are, in fact, racist.
So over the last few days, when we’ve seen members of our country’s administration (and their most ardent defenders) argue again and again that the detention centers at our borders – the ones where at least seven children have died in United States custody – don’t technically fit the definition of a concentration camp, I start to wonder how bad those centers must be if that’s the argument that we’re now forced to have.
Are the conditions of the camps as horrific as the extermination camps in Auschwitz and other Nazi-run camps in World War II? Of course not. Are they inhumane and beneath a standard that we as Americans should hold our country to? Absolutely.
That we’re arguing whether children – regardless of who you want to point a finger at for them being in the situation they’re in – deserve adequate care and items such as soap and toothpaste (and a place to sleep, and conditions that will allow them to get that sleep) is a sign of the cruelty that exists at our border right now – a cruelty that we own and permit through the decisions and inaction of our elected officials.
What matters at this point isn’t whose fault it is that the children are being detained and neglected in the centers. It doesn’t matter whether you think their parents should have stayed in their home country or whether you think the laws of asylum are on their side (they are). It doesn’t matter if you want to point the finger at previous administrations for creating the family separation laws or at the Trump administration for abusing them. What matters is that, to the rest of the world – and to the families we’ve separated and held in poor conditions we wouldn’t even place our most violent criminals in – we’re no longer the land of liberty and freedom, but of cruelty and inhumanity.
Middle and high school civics courses are often optimistic and watered-down versions of American history (it wasn’t until college that I came to really learn the brutality involved in the Civil Rights Movement, for example). But I grew up thinking America was a beacon of hope for the rest of the world, that the poem that hangs on the Statue of Liberty was an invitation and a declaration that we would welcome the impoverished and the war-torn with open arms. On a religious level, I also try my best to follow a man who said to love my neighbors, with no mention of the borders between them and myself.
You won’t hear me say this often, but Donald Trump is right: we have a crisis at the border, but it’s not the kind he’s pedaled since his campaign kicked off four years ago. It’s a crisis of our own making, that we have the complete control to turn around. Yes, we need sound immigration laws, but we also need to get back to being what I believed we were in my eighth-grade civics class: the good guys.