Children, belonging to a caravan of migrants from Honduras en route to the United States, wait with their parents at the border bridge in Tecun Uman.
(photo credit: JOSE CABEZAS/REUTERS)
Amid Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's contentious use of the words "concentration camp," when speaking about detained children at the southern border of the US, presidential candidate Bernie Sanders categorically rejected the term in an interview with CNN on Wednesday.
'No I have not used that word," Sanders said in the interview.
"I didn’t use that terminology. And again, I have a lot of respect for Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez; she's doing a fantastic job," Sander said. "But what I will tell you is that we are locking up children in deplorable conditions and we are keeping kids there for weeks in places that are not meant for kids. Children are being traumatized - and that is absolutely unacceptable. We need in this country, comprehensive immigration reform; we need to deal with the 1.8 million young people in DACA to get them legal status; and we need to move toward citizenship, a path towards citizenship."
“That is exactly what they are: they are concentration camps and if that doesn’t bother you, then [I don’t know],” she said as she gestured, adding that she was speaking to those who “are concerned enough with humanity to say that ‘Never Again’ means something and... that concentration camps are now an institutionalized practice in the Home of the Free [United States].”
"I don't use those words lightly," Ocasio-Cortez explained. "I don't use those words to just throw bombs.”
“I use that word because that is what an administration that creates concentration camps is,” she said, highlighting that a presidency that “creates concentration camps is fascist, and it's very difficult to say that."
Earlier this month, author and expert on the history of concentration camps Andrea Pitzer explained to Esquire that the definition of a concentration camp is mass detention of civilians without trial - exactly what she said is happening in the US southern border.
“Six million Jews were killed in the Holocaust. It is disgraceful for Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to compare our nation’s immigration policies to the horrors carried out by the Nazis,” the Republican Jewish Coalition said in a statement. “We would hope that Rep. Ocasio-Cortez knows better, but sadly she does not.”
The liberal Jewish group Bend the Arc: Jewish Action also came to Ocasio-Cortez’s defense.
“Whether we call them concentration camps, mass detention centers, or cages for children, they are a moral abomination,” its CEO, Stosh Cotler, said in a statement. “The real question is not what we call these mass detention sites growing all over the country, the question is: what is every government official and citizen doing to stop this evil? Our government is scapegoating, demonizing and terrorizing immigrants. These policies echo the worst of Jewish history and the worst of American history. Anyone distracting from these clear facts with manufactured outrage is subverting Jewish history and trauma, and that is shameful.”
According to a Department of Homeland Security fact sheet, migrant children and parents may be separated when “individuals who are believed to have committed any crime, including illegal entry,” are “referred to the Department of Justice.” DHS then transfers children to the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, where they are held in a “temporary shelter” until a sponsor can be found for the child.
Reports suggest these shelters include large centers with dormitory-like accommodations. Meanwhile, the adults are held in what the government calls “detention facilities” pending hearings.
JTA and Ilanit Chernick contributed to this report.
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