By Maggie McNish, 3G Intern
The genocide that occurred during the Holocaust did not begin in the gas chambers. It began in ghettos and in prison camps. It began with scapegoating certain groups, blaming them for the destruction of the German economy after World War I. We learn about the Holocaust, and we ask, how could the Germans let that happen? Well, the answer is inside us, as Americans, because we are currently at risk of letting something like that happen.
Since the election of Donald Trump as the 45th president of the United States, stocks in the private prison industry have soared. According to Business Insider, by the morning of November 9th 2016, Corrections Corporations of America was up 40% and GEO Groups was up 20%.(1) These statistics raised alarms before Inauguration Day, but worries intensify everyday as the new administration continues to put out policy platforms that promote arrests.
To begin with, private prisons are making money off of the mass deportations that are taking place across the nation right now. What happens to an immigrant mother when an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (I.C.E.) officer rips her from her home? What happens to a child who is caught crossing the Texas border alone, hot, scared, and hungry? They are not simply sent back to their country of origin. No, they are detained in a placement facility. They are given an “alien registration number,” not unlike the numbers that were tattooed onto the wrists of Jews.
The Trump Administration is not to blame for this system. Under President Barack Obama, the Senate Appropriations Committee set an immigration detention bed quota, ensuring that at least 34,000 beds would be filled every day. Conversely, less than 500 beds are available for female victims of sex trafficking and less than 20 for male victims.
Customs and Border Protection runs some of these facilities, like the Nogales Placement Center in Nogales, Arizona, which holds undocumented children who cross the border alone. Some media outlets were given a tour of the center in June 2014, and journalists witnessed kids imprisoned in the former warehouse.(2)
However, I.C.E. also has contracts with a growing number of private prison corporations. A December 2016 report from the Detention Watch Network revealed that 73% of immigrants detained under I.C.E. are being held inside private prisons.(3) Facts like these are explained by the uncomfortably close relationship between prison corporations and government officials. For example, representatives from Arizona were tied to the lobbying firm ALEC in 2010 when the Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act was passed, making it legal for Arizona law enforcement to discriminate based on ethnicity and charge immigrants for not carrying their papers. ALEC works on behalf of private prison corporations.
What the Trump administration is doing is turning an already bad system into a human rights catastrophe. There is a reason he spent his campaign calling Mexicans rapists and criminals. He wants them in jails. He wants these corporations to make a profit.
Immigrants are obviously not the only victims of the prison industrial complex, though. The devastating effect that mass incarceration has on black communities is coming to light more than ever before thanks to books like The New Jim Crowe and films like 13th. The Civil War saw the end of slavery as America knew it, but it reshaped itself in the form of legal prejudice, imprisonment, and free labor.
Then, we get President Trump threatening to send the feds into Chicago to deal with the violence there. We hear him uplifting police officers without providing any criticism of the murders committed by cops against black men and women while his supporters shout, “blue lives matter,” clearly unable to comprehend the concept that many Americans really do not believe black lives matter. His press secretary threatens that “you’ll see greater enforcement” of federal marijuana laws, whatever that means.(4) Trump himself makes statements like, “we’re all citizens of this blessed land, and no matter our color or the blood, color of the blood we bleed, it’s the same red blood of great, great patriot,” alluding to a new ideal of ethnic purity that horrifyingly mirrors Hitler’s dream of an Aryan society.(5)
The Oxford English Dictionary defines a concentration camp as “a place in which large numbers of people, especially political prisoners or members of persecuted minorities, are deliberately imprisoned in a relatively small area with inadequate facilities.” It would seem as though our country has more than a few of those. Are we going to wait until we are facing our own arrests to care?
(4) Sean Spicer, daily press briefing on 23 February 2017
(5) Donald Trump, address to CPAC on 24 February 2017