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As We Celebrate Freedom, Let’s Consider Closing America’s Concentration Camps
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez famously referred to the detention centers along America’s southern border as “concentration camps.” While some have taken issue with that characterization, my hometown paper, the Salt Lake Tribune agreed emphatically. As we celebrate freedom and liberty as American ideals on Independence Day, let’s have a serious conversation about closing the camps.
These camps are full of people who have crossed into the United States seeking asylum. Under President Trump’s administration, a zero-tolerance policy has led to the separation of families and the incarceration of people who have been denied a bail hearing that traditionally allowed many such people to stay in the United States pending a thorough investigation into their request for asylum. They are not criminals. Many are children.
The premise of the effort is that as a country we must have and protect our borders and that without such borders we lack sovereignty. Having just returned from a four-country swing through Europe I can confidently say that this argument about borders and sovereignty is so much poppycock. In Europe, people and goods move among sovereign states without so much as waving a passport. The language spoken changes, the currency used changes, food changes and law changes. There is so much more than a border to defining sovereignty that the focus on borders is laughable.
Connor Boyack, a friend on the political right with whom I seldom agree, once wrote a powerful piece on borders and immigration in which he argues that “open migration” and “free intercourse and commerce” are among the first and most important fruits of peace. We are at peace with Mexico. We are at peace with Central American countries. We should be enjoying the fruits of that peace. In his essay, Boyack argues for amnesty for undocumented immigrants. Surely, an extension of this philosophy would be not locking up asylum seekers indefinitely in concentration camps.
Many years ago, I visited the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island with my family. As near as we can tell, none of our ancestors came through Ellis Island–they all immigrated earlier. I mean all. Recent DNA analysis confirmed we lack even an Elizabeth Warren of native American blood. Some of our ancestors came over on the Mayflower. One way or another, all of our ancestors either were or descended from immigrants, most of whom came without a visa or other permission to come.
The Statue of Liberty, a magnificent symbol of freedom and our shared American aspiration to be a beacon of hope, liberty and freedom for the world, is inscribed with the words of Emmz Lazarus’s poem written by and for the then new statue in 1883, “The New Colossus.” Its words are profound and important enough to bear rereading now.
The New Colossus
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
Ponder the words. Consider the sentiment.
Consider President Trump’s recent tweet, in contrast:
We MUST have strong borders and stop illegal immigration. Without that we do not have a country. Also, Mexico is killing U.S. on trade. WIN!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 30, 2015
Although this tweet is four years old, it is entirely consistent with his subsequent messages and actions.
I for one will stand with the Statue of Liberty and reject the false message that borders are what define a country. Freedom defines America. Let’s celebrate that by giving freedom to the thousands of people being held in America’s concentration camps.
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