In April 2018, the Trump Administration announced a “zero tolerance” policy in the enforcement of the security of the Mexico-United States border. Immediately following the policy announcement Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) ramped up efforts to stop migrants from Mexico, South America and Central America from entering the United States, arresting individuals and families numbering in the thousands. Unfortunately, this callous choice has not received the consistent media attention it deserves.
The most controversial aspect of the “zero tolerance” policy is surely the separation of families. Thousands of children were taken from their parents over the course of a few months. This traumatic and inhumane practice caught media attention immediately resulting in both journalists and government officials seeking the truth of the situation, which was worse than expected. Tent cities were found at the border, housing the refugees in crowded conditions. Inside these tent cities, young children were caged and left to take care of one another, disease and illnesses were left untreated and men, women and children were forced to sleep in cages on concrete floors.
Unfortunately, the outrage surrounding this situation permeated media conversation very briefly, returning into the limelight only when there were new related controversies. The coverage of these facilities saw a peak in December 2018, when multiple children died while in ICE custody, but the media coverage quickly lost momentum. The next wave of media attention came when Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC), a freshman member of Congress who received massive attention due to her underdog win and Democratic Socialist platform, visited a refugee detention center at the border earlier this summer. Her report was nothing short of gut-turning.
AOC relayed stories told to her by women in ICE captivity, who explained how they had no choice but to drink from the toilet and how they hadn’t showered for several weeks. She reported on the massively overcrowded conditions and described the smell of cramped and unwashed bodies. AOC hosted an Instagram livestream later during which she referred to the “‘detention centers’ as what they really are: concentration camps.” After AOC’s statements, other important figures visited the camps and media attention rightfully exploded. It seemed for a moment that perhaps someone would be held accountable for these atrocities, but there was no such luck. The conversation about the camps had sadly all but vanished from the news cycle before the summer was over.
To be clear, ICE is still running concentration camps on the southern border and news coverage of this abuse has tragically fallen off since the summer. Taking a quick look at Google trends, the phrase “concentration camp” had a large peak in June and July but has since dropped to its typical level. This is also true to a lesser extent for the words “ICE” and “migrant.” When searching, “ICE concentration camps,” in the Google news tab, there are few recent articles, and with a few scrolls of the webpage, one will begin to find articles from all the way back in June and July.
This lack of attention is appalling. The very notion that concentration camps on American soil would cease to be newsworthy is absurd. This sends a clear message to the world, especially those seeking a better life in the U.S.. It tells them that the United States’ attention span cannot accommodate caring about the lives of Latin Americans in cages for more than two months at a time. While it may seem as though the Trump administration levies a new atrocity to command the news cycle each week, the concentration camps are a special kind of evil and United States citizens cannot afford to forget them.