Voices From Inside ICE’s Nationwide Network of Concentration Camps

Plus: Why that term is appropriate.


My story at The New Republic that came out earlier this week detailed the abysmal conditions at Krome Service Processing Center, an ICE facility in Miami. Krome promotes itself as offering model mental health care treatment to detainees, which is ironic given that the country’s Immigration-Industrial Complex — run by the ICE with the help of numerous private contractors making vast profits off the misery and despair of the people they intern — is generating so much mental anguish and illness for so many detainees. Any positive work being done at Krome, and there appears to be precious little, pales in comparison with the mass trauma ICE is causing at its nationwide complex of camps.

I was the first journalist to get inside Krome without being escorted on a Potemkin Village tour and having interviews monitored by ICE minders. I was only able to meet with detainees in Krome’s visiting center and what I saw, which was quite disturbing, was merely the tip of the iceberg. Beyond hearing about abusive treatment by guards and the terrible food and medical care that are a staple of ICE camps everywhere, the mental care treatment at Krome is deeply problematic. It appears that it consists in large part of keeping detainees heavily medicated while they await their almost inevitable deportation orders.

Meanwhile, Krome hides away deeply disturbed individuals at an all but secret on-site psyche ward, or ships them off to a local hospital that has a poor record of mental health treatment and which is also off limits to reporters or independent investigators.

I’ve been to two ICE camps now and my view is that we need to start calling them what they are: concentration camps. No, they are not death camps — though people are dying at ICE facilities, by suicide or due to neglect and shoddy medical care — and using that term is inappropriate and misleading.

But concentration camp is the appropriate term when any government puts a racially despised minority (or minorities) in isolated camps, provides criminally negligent medical care, provides a diet better suited for dogs, subjects them to brutality by guards and arbitrarily imposes solitary confinement, severely restricts access by journalists, watchdogs and even members of congress, and repeatedly lies about the conditions.

To her great credit, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez broke the language barrier at the national political level in June, when she began calling ICE facilities concentration camps. It’s time the media catches up.

Anna Lind-Guzik, a scholar of Soviet history, international law and human rights, recently wrote about this question at Vox. (Yeah, not normally my favorite publication, but this was a good piece.) Here’s an excerpt.

Americans offended at the use of “concentration camp” should acquaint themselves with our own history of civilian detention. As early as 1862, American forces interned Dakota women and children at Fort Snelling. George Takei tweeted this week regarding the mass internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, “I know what concentration camps are. I was inside two of them, in America. And yes, we are operating such camps again.”

Applying the term “concentration camp” to the indefinite detention without trial of thousands of civilians in inhumane conditions — under armed guard and without adequate provisions or medical care — is not just appropriate, it’s necessary. Invoking the word does not demean the memory of the Holocaust. Instead, the lessons of the Holocaust will be lost if we refuse to engage with them.

If conservatives truly think that “concentration camp” is limited to Nazi death camps, where was the outrage when the Trump administration employed it to (correctly) describe the mass detention of Uighurs in Xinjiang? (Naturally, the Chinese government also hates the term concentration camp, preferring to call them “vocational education training centers.”)

Apart from the historical argument, there is a moral and geopolitical imperative for calling the atrocities happening on our southern border by their proper names. The international human rights regime depends on global cooperation, a veneer of accountability, and American funding. Trump eschews soft power in favor of military solutions, and is leading his fellow authoritarians in a race to the bottom. The 1951 Refugee Convention, while imperfect, once offered protections to stateless, persecuted people. That’s no longer true. Asylum seekers at the Mexican border are being treated like criminals despite having broken no laws. Locking up refugees in camps is the real betrayal of the legacy of the Holocaust.

In memory of the 6 million Jews who perished because they were considered less human, I will not accept my government treating migrants like animals. And as the daughter of a Soviet Jewish refugee, I will not accept the criminalization of stateless people. Perpetrators depend on complacency, on our inability to care for people unlike ourselves. No person is illegal, or a pest to be exterminated. If you don’t like the term concentration camp, help close them.

Some reporting from my New Republic story on Krome got cut due to space limitations and I’ll be posting and expanding on that material here this week. Here’s part of an interview that was conducted by a volunteer from Friends of Miami-Dade Detainees FOMDD), a first class advocacy group that has been organizing visits to detainees for years.

The interview is lightly edited for clarity and I’ve withheld the detainee’s name. He is a South American who has been in the United States for about three decades and held at Krome, or other ICE camps, for almost three years. The FOMDD volunteer, a professional psychologist, scribbled these notes after leaving Krome because the facility does not allow visitors to bring in pens, paper, phones or any type of recording device.

History of Bipolar Disorder and prior incarceration for burglary charges. He’s currently waiting on the determination of a complaint he filed from an incident more than three years ago while in custody in which the police beat him up (he was handcuffed) and broke his nose. He described the incident vividly and it was clear this was an instance of police brutality. He reports being given multiple excuses for delays, and has stated to authorities that “All I want is for you to see the video, it will show you everything.” He also wants them to pay for surgery to fix his nose. 

He has some family contact, but it’s limited and sporadic. He has an 11-year-old daughter who has visited with her mother on one occasion. His mother is in Tampa and is unable to visit, but they have talked on the phone. He said he felt sad for his mother due to all the losses she’s experienced.  His older brother, whom he characterized as being “the good one of her sons” was killed in a car accident. He has two more bothers who are incarcerated. 

He also talked about his mental illness and the different medications he’s tried. He’s currently receiving psychiatric treatment at Krome. He said his favorite Krome employee is the psychologist (he was unable to remember the names of either doctor). He said the psychologist was very nice and would teach him meditation when he felt he was agitated and “about to lose it.”

He also described feeling overwhelmed by all the crowding, noises, overstimulation, and lack of privacy. This can be related to Bipolar Disorder as well as other concomitant predispositions associated with neurodiversity. He explained he’s been “in the box” (solitary) several times. He also shared current auditory phenomena and asked me if these were hallucinations. Lastly, he has an attorney working on his case, and he asked if FOMDD could please keep visiting him. 

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