Here in America, we have detention camps full of people. We are currently in the midst of a pandemic.
That bodes very poorly for the people in those camps.
If you are someone who studies history — or even just watched the HBO show Years and Years — this might make you think about the camps the British operated during the Boer war in South Africa, at the turn of the 20th century. These camps were for refugees, and they were kept deliberately overcrowded. The British officials hoped that, rather than having to kill the refugees themselves, the unsanitary conditions in the camps would do the work for them. They did. Disease festered and killed off thousands in those camps — including 22,000 children. A century later, Britain’s actions during that war are remembered as an incident of genocide.
Today, the camps on the Mexican-American border suffer from similarly unsanitary conditions and dangerous overcrowding. After visiting the camps, Dr. Dolly Lucio Sevier issued a medical declaration that children at those facilities have “no adequate access to medical care, basic sanitation, water, or adequate food.” Teen mothers in the camps have claimed that they’re unable to wash out their babies’ bottles. Many of them haven’t been able to wash their hands. Dr. Sevier remarked that those conditions are "tantamount to intentionally causing the spread of disease."
There have already been outbreaks of flu in the camps. One led to the death of a 16-year-old last May. Attorneys representing clients at the camps believe a coronavirus outbreak is basically inevitable, based not only on the current reality of how rapidly coronavirus is spreading , but also on the history of infectious diseases, like the flu, spreading within the camps.
But, to be clear, the coronavirus is not the flu. It is much worse. Flu kills approximately .1 percent of people infected. The coronavirus kills 2 percent. Barring preventative measures like social-distancing, every person infected with coronavirus goes on to infect approximately 2.2 other people. And while coronavirus is more likely to kill the elderly, so is the flu, meaning that 16-year-olds, like the one who died while in an American border camp, do not, as a rule, die from flu. They die from the flu when there is a terrific level of medical neglect and insufficient care taken to insure that people aren’t suffering from malnutrition. They die from the flu when its transmission isn't taken seriously, because the lives at stake are not valued highly enough to try to save.
In an environment like the camps, coronavirus will spread like wildfire, and its effects will be similarly devastating, because the lives of the people at the camps have not been prioritized in the past, and doubtfully will be moving forward. Remember: As you share those memes about songs to sing while washing your hands remember that until very recently children at the detention camps were not allowed to have soap. While we might bemoan the lack of available toilet paper at the pharmacy, the people in detention camps have been told to drink out of toilets.
So, perhaps it's not surprising that, reportedly, the immigrants aren’t even being informed of what’s happening.
“Nobody has come from the administration and told us about coronavirus. Nobody,” explained an asylum seeker at the Port Isabel Detention Center near Brownsville to the San Antonio Express. The same man claimed he sleeps in a room with 75 other people.
Perhaps even more unsurprisingly, Trump has leaned into his most xenophobic inclinations throughout the epidemic. He’s described coronavirus as “a foreign virus” and said that “to keep new cases from entering our shores, we will be suspending all travel from Europe to the United States for the next 30 days.” He’s claimed, regarding South America that “we need the wall more than ever!” This, despite the fact that the director of the CDC has explained that the wall would not actually help mitigate an outbreak of disease.
Besides, the problem with Trump’s notions about building a wall to keep the virus out, is that the virus is already here. And viruses do not really care about anyone’s nationality.
But Trump does, very much. During this time he’s been blaming the disease upon immigration and claiming that, “We must understand that border security is also health security... Whether it's the virus that we're talking about or many other health threats, the Democrat policy of open borders is a direct threat to the health and wellbeing of all Americans.”
All of this means that we’re inclined to be ill-disposed towards those people being held in camps on the border. If they’re being tended to so poorly they can’t survive simple flu, why do we think they’d be treated better at a time when the President is demonizing immigrants?
Look, you may well be one of those people who believe that people should be punished for bringing their families across the border. There are plenty of people who feel that. But surely you don’t believe the punishment ought to be a death sentence. Keeping the camps closed now is tantamount to murder. And it’s not impossible to open them. Hundreds of non-violent inmates in Ohio are being released early, many to house arrests, because of concerns that coronavirus will spread within jails. How can we not afford the same freedom to literal children and asylum seekers?
If there was ever a time to shut down the camps, it’s now. Otherwise the U.S. is at risk of being forever remembered as the British were during the Boer war — indifferent to suffering, and guilty of genocide.
COVID-19 has been declared a global pandemic. Go to the NHS website for the latest information on symptoms, prevention, and other resources.