The Not So New Concentration Camps

by Quiver Watts

Two hundred people gathered outside the Federal Building in San Francisco at 8 a.m. on Friday, blockading the main entrance in protest of the abhorrent concentration camps set up all across the country that are currently warehousing more than 53,000 immigrants, including 15,000 children. Conditions in the camps are appalling, with overcrowding forcing people to spend nights in standing room only cells, children being denied such basic provisions and toothbrushes and diapers, and deaths on the rise. 

The action was one of a series organized by the group Never Again Action, which is mobilizing Jewish activists across the country to draw comparisons between the concentration camps set up by the Nazis and the current camps set up for asylum seekers. Outside the federal building, demonstrators raised chants of “Never again is now!” and sang songs in Spanish, English and Hebrew. A banner stretched across Seventh Street, shutting down traffic, read “Nancy, Close the Camps,” a response to the $4.6 million bill to fund the detention centers that Democratic leadership signed onto at the end of June. 

Whistleblowers who had worked in detention centers have come forward to report serious human rights abuses taking place within the camps. The Intercept reported that solitary confinement, a form of psychological torture, was being used against people with mental illness or those at risk of suicide. NBC obtained reports of case workers in a camp in Yuma, Arizona, detailing sexual abuse of children at the hands of guards, and children being forced to sleep on concrete floors. While the Trump administration officially stopped separating children from their families, there are still at least 2,000 children who have not been reunited with their parents and thousands more who were taken in without their families.

Protests against the camps has continued to grow as more actions organized by Never Again Action have led to dozens of arrests across the country. Here in San Francisco hundreds gathered outside Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) headquarters at 630 Sansome Street on both Thursday and Friday in protest of the continued operations of ICE despite the city’s sanctuary status. In San Diego activist rose up en masse after 20 people were taken in targeted ICE raids throughout the week.

Political leaders and the general public have been forced into a corner as attention is called to the inhumane conditions detainees are undergoing in the camps. Immigrants are being held and tortured in order to coerce support for increasing funding to improve conditions for detainees, while public outcry demands that the camps be closed and ICE be completely defunded. The more funding is directed to the camps, the more permanent and sustainable they will become, and the sooner the urgency of closing them entirely may fade from the headlines. 

“The reality is that not only was the money they sent was nowhere near enough to meet the humanitarian need,” said Marco Amaral, a member of Bridge of Love Across the Border, one of the groups involved in San Diego’s anti-ICE rally on July 12th. “but it was mostly spent reinforcing ICE, reinforcing the militarization of the border. To me, it really is as simple as we are making it seem. We need to talk about how we’re going to end the atrocity, not just how we’re gonna slow down Donald Trump. If we aren’t talking about stopping fascism, if we’re only talking about moderating fascism, then we are ignoring the fundamental truth of fascism, which is that it will find a way to decimate our communities. We have to find a way to stop fascism.”

As public pressure continues to build against the concentration camps at the border, the Trump administration is mounting a campaign of violence against immigrants, trying to put a citizenship question on the 2020 Census and defending the detention centers despite reports of seriously appalling conditions. Trump also publicly called immigrants who are gang members “animals, not people.” 

The Trump Administration has also threatened thousands of families with homelessness, proposing a new HUD policy that would force families with mixed immigration statuses out of public and Section 8 housing. According to the ACLU this new rule threatens 25,000 mixed status families, including 55,000 children currently living in units with “ineligible” family members. Those who would be considered “ineligible” under the new rule includes both undocumented immigrants and some documented people. For example, survivors of domestic violence who have temporary visas will also be forced from housing units.  

While the situation has certainly been in the spotlight and abuses more glaring under the current administration, according to an article by Bea Bischoff published in Slate, the human rights atrocities are nothing new. The author points out that during Obama’s administration a lawsuit was filed decrying the atrocious conditions, including overcrowding and dangerously low temperatures, in the same Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) facilities that are currently facing scrutiny. Obama also deported more people (409,000) in one year (2012) than any other president, including Trump, whose record so far is 256,000 (2018). However, Trump has deported 282,000 people so far in 2019, and is on track to exceed Obama’s deportation record. 

Image by Rini Templeton, activist and artist. Reprinted from

Also in the spotlight are the many businesses that have been contracting with and supplying ICE and CBP. Over 300 Microsoft employees collectively signed a letter to their CEO demanding that the company end it’s contract to offer cloud services to ICE. Hundreds of Wayfair employees staged a walkout to protest the company’s agreement to send beds to CBP camps. Amazon, Salesforce, and other main players have also felt the backlash from their workers. Stock in the private prison company GEO Group fell dramatically over the last month as investors pull out of supporting concentration camps. On Monday, July 15th, activists will gather outside Amazon’s Market Street office in San Francisco to protest the company’s collaboration to provide facial recognition software to ICE and local police to target undocumented immigrants for detention and deportation.

Marco Amaral believes the time is now for activists to demand an end to the concentration camps on the border, and that we have the power to end this atrocity. 

“Among the left, even among those of us who can see, smell and truly imagine a better future, there is a false sense that we don’t have enough people, that we need to waste so much energy on changing people’s minds,” Amaral said. “But the truth is that during the Civil Rights Era, less than 1% of the black community participated in the movement. And we actually are enough. We need to acknowledge that and take advantage of this moment.”