We can’t label migrant facilities without experiencing them


Graphic by Ella Pearlman-Chang

Alexander Diaz-Lopez and Shirah Lister

After searching for a home for the new child migrant detention center, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has found the ‘perfect’ place: Takoma Park. People from all wards have shared opinions on the matter, but because of the obscurity surrounding the migrant ‘facilities,’ a true understanding of the situation is hard to come by, and a true label is even harder to find.

Even though immigration enforcement is a perpetual fixture of the news cycle, the name of where people are being detained consistently is rarely discussed. A name has the potential to create and shape one’s view, and in current events, an overarching label can help us fully grasp what’s happening at our borders.

But at the same time, even a slightly incorrect name can be extremely misleading. When talking about the facilities, politicians and citizens have referred to them in a variety of ways: detention centers, shelters, warehouses, and even concentration camps. All of this begs the question: what is the correct name?

This is a question without a clear answer. Though it seems fair to call these places anything from a shelter to a migration center, it’s hard to draw the line between offensive and historically accurate. 

For example, ‘concentration camps’ is a term that has been thrown around since Alexandria Ocasio Cortez visited the detention centers in July. Although the Holocaust and the current presence of immigration enforcement are similar at a glance, they are, in fact, two completely separate events with two completely separate intentions. But in respect for the victims of both, the term ‘concentration camps’ should remain separate.

And though we can try to sympathize with the experiences faced by those in the ‘facilities’ today, the reality is that we’ll never understand what it is like to be in that position, and therefore, we can never fully identify something just from how it appears. The true label belongs to those who’ve experienced it— and even then it varies.

But what does this ambiguity say about the current immigration climate and administration in our country? It is reflective of who we are as a nation. With the lack of valid information about the borders, how can we be expected to identify it? Without substantial detail, it would be unfair of us to not only fill in the gaps of knowledge with assumptions and label it neither clearly nor correctly, but to also speak over the lives directly affected.

The fact is that the attention the current immigration enforcement is receiving has never been seen before. Separating children from their families is something that makes some think of the Holocaust but in reality, it’s not similar—and it doesn’t need to be. It is awful and a grotesque human rights abuse on its own. 

Immigration enforcement is a serious and prominent enough issue that migrant centers not only require but deserve an original label. So in actuality, it’s not a concentration camp, it’s not an internment camp. Maybe we can’t label it right now, but we can say with 100 percent certainty that it is not our voice and therefore, not our decision. 

So how can we label something that we’ve never experienced? The answer continues to remain unclear. Although we continuously attempt to categorize it, in the end, it won’t work. •