Readers React: Calling immigrant detention centers ‘concentration camps’ is needlessly divisive

Migrants, mostly from Central America, line up at a facility in El Paso on May 16 to board a van that will take them to a processing center.
(Paul Ratje / AFP/Getty Images)

To the editor: The reasons Americans can’t talk politics with one another anymore were displayed prominently in Jonathan Katz’s well-meaning op-ed piece, “Call immigrant detention centers what they really are: concentration camps.”

There should be, as Katz notes, “mass outrage” at a system that separates children from their parents and “brutally” holds detainees in isolation cells. The question becomes how to best engage the public. This is where Katz’s approach fails: He further alienates those in the center and on the right with his “concentration camp” hyperbole.

Although the term “concentration camp” is technically correct, the smoke created by the term obscures what’s going on. Regardless of which type of concentration camp is being discussed, the vast majority will reflexively equate “concentration camp” with ghastly images of Nazi death camps.

Rhetoric like “concentration camp” serves only to polarize and inflame passions on both sides. Using “concentration camp” will add gasoline to liberals’ anti-Trump flames, cause conservatives to rally around Trump, and force those in the shrinking political center to choose a side. As for much-needed consensus and compromise on immigration, language like this makes it all but impossible. How can liberals compromise with Nazis? And how can conservatives compromise with those who think they are Nazis?


Katz is correct when he writes, “With constant, unrelenting attention, it is possible we might alleviate the plight of the people inside, and stop the crisis from getting worse.” Stopping the crisis and reaching a compromise is certainly desirable, but it won’t happen if inflammatory terms like “concentration camp” are allowed to leak into the vernacular. Let’s stick with “immigrant detention centers” and follow Katz’s advice to give this story the “unrelenting attention” it deserves.

Steven Youngblood, Parkville, Mo.

The writer is director of the Center for Global Peace Journalism at Park University in Missouri, where he is an associate professor.



To the editor: I’m not “balking” at Katz’s misuse of the term “concentration camp” — I’m outraged by it.

At Nazi concentration camps, inmates were starved, beaten, not provided with clothes or bathing facilities, made to stand for hours on end for inspections in all weather conditions, and shot for the tiniest infraction or a sadistic guard’s amusement.

None of those are happening in the camps at the border. The primary problem in those camps is that there’s not enough room for the too many people who have, of their own free choice, crossed our border.

If the immigrants don’t like the conditions, they can just stay home or seek asylum elsewhere.

Aviva Williams, Burbank


To the editor: I was struck by the similarity between the photo with Katz’s article and those from Nazi Germany.

The picture shows detainees marching single file past the fences that have held them in with oil tanker rail cars nearby. Where are the guard houses, searchlights and cattle cars?


We Americans once prided ourselves on our values, beliefs, laws and tolerance. Is this who we want to be?

Carol A. Wiley, Palm Desert


To the editor: How can an intelligent person like Katz have the temerity to compare detention centers near the U.S.-Mexico border to Nazi concentration camps? Did the Jews, gypsies and other “undesirables” voluntarily flock to the German border for a free shower?

The real story that I’d like to read is how 11,000 unaccompanied minors from Central America managed to cross the border and be apprehended in the month of May alone.

Len Linton, Thousand Oaks

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