A Modest Immigration Proposal

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez speaks to the media after she and other members of Congress toured two Border Patrol stations in Clint, Texas, July 1, 2019. (Julio-Cesar Chavez/Reuters)College campuses have lots of empty housing during the summer. Proudly progressive institutions such as Harvard, Yale, and Stanford should welcome illegal immigrants.

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D., N.Y.) believes that American detention centers that house illegal aliens — over 1 million illegal arrivals during the last six months alone — are similar to “concentration camps.” A storm of criticism met her historically fallacious comparisons. Ocasio-Cortez doubled down on her Hitlerian reference by pedantically claiming that she was referencing “concentration” rather than “death” camps, and thus despite sloganeering “Never Again,” with a wink and nod, she was supposedly not suggesting that Auschwitz was quite comparable to America’s border facilities.

She then doubled down again by visiting the border. On the basis of no evidence, she was soon claiming that detained illegal aliens were drinking out of toilets, as well as alleging that immigration officers met her social-welfare activism with rudeness and sexual innuendo.

Where to start with her abject historical ignorance?

One, America’s detention centers bear no resemblance to concentration camps of the past. Illegal aliens know that there is some chance that, after they enter the U.S. illegally, they may be apprehended and detained. If they really believed the conditions of their detention resembled “concentration camps,” which historically are scenes of mass death, they would never have come.

Millions of Russians by summer 1942 were not voluntarily flooding across German lines on the expectation that they’d survive, much less thrive, in Nazi “concentration camps.” The German public did not pressure the Nazi hierarchy to allow lawyers and counselors into Soviet POW camps. Boer children did not migrate to British territory on the rationale that their detention would be without hazard.

Certainly, undocumented immigrants — receiving, for example, “free” transgendered counseling and hormonal treatment while in American custody — do not resemble the inmates of “concentration camps.” American immigration authorities are trying to facilitate brief detentions and expedite both deportations and refugee hearings to curb the number of detainees. In exact opposite fashion, the wardens of concentration camps historically have wanted to lock up as many people as possible — not release them.

Release from concentration camps was often facilitated only through death by starvation or disease. If Ocasio-Cortez can cite a historical example of concentration-camp inmates having access to legal counsel, modern medicine, and communications, as well as nutritious food and shelter, she might at least offer some parallels rather than her characteristic half-educated tweets.

If for historical comparison she wishes to return to the wrong-headed wartime detention of Japanese-Americans and Japanese citizens residing in the United States, then she should at least focus her ire on the architects of that stupid policy: the yellow journalism and hysteria of the liberal McClatchy papers of California, the careerism of then California attorney general Earl Warren, and the patronizing racism of Franklin Roosevelt — in other words the progressive trifecta that ensured the detentions. (And while we are on the topic of progressive Supreme Court justices, AOC might wish to probe Justice Ruth Ginsburg about her past commentary on the oppressed and abortion — e.g., “Frankly I had thought that at the time Roe was decided, there was concern about population growth and particularly growth in populations that we don’t want to have too many of.”)

Two, the distinction between concentration and death camps is one without a difference, or at least a distinction of intent rather than of actuality. The term “concentration camp” grew out of British detention centers during the Boer War, in which over 30,000 Boer and African prisoners died under British control, many of them children, mostly due to overcrowding, disease, and malnutrition.

True, the infamous Nazis camp Dachau was not literally by design a “death” camp in the way that the later and far more lethal Treblinka and Auschwitz were, when trainloads of arrivals were unloaded and marched into their gas showers. Nonetheless it needed several crematoria to dispose of more than 30,000 inmates who perished at Dachau while under captivity. When Mexico green-lights and herds tens of thousands of migrants, without sufficient food, shelter, or medical care, northward across its territory to the U.S. border, Mexico knows, and apparently is content, that there is going to be chaos when they illegally cross into the United States. That candidate stuntmen such as Julian Castro and Corey Booker accompany illegal border crossers suggests that they too assume that their flock will be better off in the U.S. than in their countries of birth. Otherwise, would Booker and Castro be leading the innocent into camps of death?

Ocasio-Cortez apparently has no clue that during World War II far more people died in concentration camps — some 15 million Russian prisoners of war and civilians under Nazi occupation on the Eastern Front, along with millions in China confined to Japanese concentration camps — than in the death camps designed from the outset to facilitate the Holocaust. Death was industrialized at Auschwitz; yet in the Soviet Gulag, or on the German Eastern Front, or in Manchuria, it was foreordained — a result of starvation and disease once millions were put behind barbed wire.

Three, if Ocasio-Cortez is worried about maltreatment, illness, and hunger of the poor, she would find a half-million in dire need on the streets of America’s major cities, almost all of which are currently controlled by progressive mayors and city councils, whose zoning and gentrification and green regulatory polices ensure an absence of low-cost housing.

To walk in the downtown areas of Los Angeles, San Francisco, Fresno, or San Jose is to witness many of California’s 130,000 homeless living on the sidewalks and streets among fifth, refuse, feces, needles, lice, fleas, and rats — history’s traditional ingredients for plague and death, with our era’s addition of drug paraphernalia. Juxtaposed to these medieval scenes are soap-box lectures about caring, intoned by progressive elites such as Mark Zuckerberg, Gavin Newsome, and Nancy Pelosi, who live in splendor in Bay Area keeps, their private neighborhood security details ensuring that their constituent peasantry keep their trash, illnesses, and defecation lower down the hill and outside the walls.

Indeed, California recently has experienced outbreaks of premodern diseases such as typhoid, typhus, tuberculosis, and infectious hepatitis. Doctors warn that plague and cholera might be next. When the American homeless sleep, eat, and inject drugs where they defecate and urinate, and their political overseers either allow or enable such miseries, they collectively refute centuries of public-health progress and medical research, and are endangering not just the well-being of the homeless but also the lives of millions in cities who live, work, and walk among such piles of flotsam and jetsam. Why isn’t AOC berating Mayor Bill de Blasio or Governor Andrew Cuomo for man’s inhumanity to man on the sidewalks of greater New York?

Four, if Ocasio-Cortez is looking at ways to ease the burden of overcrowded and overtaxed federal detention centers, I have a number of suggestions that she might pursue.

She could begin by directing her animus at Central American governments, the cumulative recipients of billions of U.S. aid dollars. For selfish reasons, they export their poor to America, both to save money by reducing welfare costs and to earn remittances from their new helots who arrive in the U.S.

Or AOC might rebuke fellow Democratic-party grandees who cynically count on illegal immigration to enhance their own efforts to alter demography and augment their own electoral power — a rank cynicism whose natural dividend is the present overcrowding at the border. If AOC believes she sees inhumanity to be deplored in detention centers, her Democratic strategists see instead would-be voters who are soon to be harvested.

Or she could fault Mexico, which counts on remittances as its No. 1 source of foreign exchange, regardless of the condition of its own expatriate poor who must scrimp to send back $30 billion to relatives who are largely ignored by the loud moralists in Mexico City. What sort of government views its own population as expendable human exports, to be driven out from home, to cross its neighbor’s border illegally, then to work at entry-level wages and remit money to the needy that Mexico City ignores?

Five, perhaps there is a different, out-of-the-box workable solution. We are currently at the beginning of the summer vacation season, when America’s 4,000 colleges and universities have plenty of empty dorm space and underutilized facilities.

Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and Stanford, to take just a few examples, might each volunteer to house and feed 1,000 detainees each. Think of the advantages that would accrue to everyone involved in the present tragedy. Immigrants would find safe and sanitary 90-day quarters, almost all of them in university towns that are proud sanctuary cities. Many universities have top-ranked medical schools. Hundreds of resident interns might offer their medical expertise pro bono, especially about hard-to-treat resistant tuberculosis or bouts of little-seen whooping cough. Yale and Harvard law schools are famous for their legal expertise and could offer immigrants top-flight counsel about ensuring refugee status. Schools would have incentives to expedite repatriation before the September commencement of classes.

Our universities are, of course, loci of progressive caring and are praised for their sharp opposition to what they think are archaic ideas of sovereignty, border security, and legal-only immigration. And yet so often our social-justice warriors are distant from the concrete recipients of their own often loud advocacy. What better pathway for cultural progress than to have university communities interact with recent immigrant arrivals through housing, socializing, and schooling immigrants? A kid from Atherton, Cambridge, or Chevy Chase might learn a lot by living among arrivals from Oaxaca and vice versa.

At least such first-hand association would ground urban progressives’ abstract advocacy in real-life caring. Immigrants would at last be able to socialize with and appreciate their progressive advocates.

In short, the summer-time use of underutilized university campuses — many of the smaller ones are financially strapped and in dire need of revenue — as contracting agencies with the federal government is an ideal solution to those who are worried about the supposed callous treatment in overcrowded and underfunded federal immigration centers.

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NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and the author, most recently, of The Case for Trump.

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