[News] That Debacle at the Border is Genocide
news at freedomarchives.org
Fri Aug 16 11:36:05 EDT 2019
That Debacle at the Border is Genocide
by Susan Miller <https://www.counterpunch.org/author/sumiller1452/> -
August 16, 2019
/Prepared text for at talk at Cornbread and Beans, Norman, Oklahoma.
(August 9, 2019.)/
I’m grateful for the invitation to speak to you. I’m a Democrat and the
child of Democrats, and lately, I’d vote for the yellow dog. I believe
that what I’m going to talk about today is central to our mission and
values as Democrats.
I’m going to explain the genocidal nature of the situation at the border
and how I know that those are concentration camps. But first, I’m going
to summarize the history of the situation. I’ll conclude by warning that
things at the border are worse than you think.
*I. Yo Tom Cole!*
I’m a scholar of American Indian history and culture. One of my
specialties is the study of indigenous peoples globally. Many of the
people of Central America are indigenous—American Indians like the
tribes around here. Nation-states all tend to apply very similar
policies to indigenous peoples, so my Seminole people are dealing with
much the same US policies as Maori are fielding vis-à-vis New Zealand
and San Bushmen, vis-a-vis Botswana, Namibia, and South Africa.
Therefore, international legal standards are useful for protecting
indigenous peoples and their ways of life.
So I’m pretty well acquainted with the UN Convention on the Prevention
and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (1948). The UN adopted it after
World War II in an effort to prevent future episodes like the Holocaust.
The Convention includes a definition of genocide, so I had that
definition in mind when I started seeing journalists’ reports that the
Department of Homeland Security was seizing Central American migrant
children from their families and putting them in concentration camps at
the southern border.
As soon as I spotted the last piece of information that made it clear to
me that the policy is genocidal, I realized that my ranting about it on
Facebook wasn’t going to be enough, and I’d have to do something to call
wider attention to what’s going on at the border. So I picked out the
nearest office of a federal, Republican elected official—that was
Representative Tom Cole’s local office—and I announced to my friends
that I’d be conducting my own solitary vigil there. I named my project
Yo Tom Cole!
My private vigil lasted only one day, because I invited a MoveOn
demonstration to join me there on the second day. It drew more than 70
people to Tom Cole’s office. Sixty-six of them signed his register,
others couldn’t shove their way through the standing room only crowd to
reach the register, and others never left the sidewalk. So more than 70
people participated, and I’m letting Tom Cole and his staff wonder
whether I can muster 70 people whenever I want to.
Some of the demonstrators decided to keep up a weekly vigil. About ten
people have been showing up on Tuesdays at 1:00. We sit on the sidewalk
outside the building, where there’s no traffic and nobody can see us. We
each go upstairs to the office in turn to engage the office staff about
immigration policy. And then we plaster social media with images of our
So my vigil has been good for me and some other vigilers, but we’re not
really helping any of the suffering innocents at the border. We’re not
ruffling the staff the way we need to, and Tom Cole is not feeling any
heat from us, so we’ve started looking for other ideas. In Nebraska,
they’re picketing the churches of Republican elected officials, so we’re
eyeing Tom Cole’s Methodist church in Moore. And we’ll be at his town
hall on the 19^th at the Weather Center.
Here’s a tablet where you can leave your name and email address if you’d
like to be on the mailing list for the vigil. And on the slide is the
name of the Facebook page that I started to let my friends know about my
little solitary vigil, which is no longer just mine. Do please friend it
if you’d like to keep up with this project on Facebook.
*II. US Interventions in Central American Nations Caused the Present
The genocide at the border is a response to an unprecedented migration
of people from Central America. It began with American interventions in
Central American governments during the 1970s and 1980s, the closing
years of the Cold War. Socialist reform movements were gaining influence
in that region, and US officials were thinking in Cold War terms:
freedom-loving capitalists versus totalitarian communists. So they sent
in military and CIA agents to steer the Central American nations away
from the Soviet bloc and keep them as US satellites. During that
episode, the US overturned some legitimately elected Central American
governments and installed puppet governments headed by dictators.
The nations most affected were Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and
Nicaragua. The coups d’etat uprooted hundreds of thousands of people and
caused a huge immigration from Central America to the US in the 1980s.
For those who remained in those nations, the legacy of that period
includes political upheaval, economic depression, unemployment, low
wages, political violence, and a fantastically high rate of homicide.
In Guatemala, the United Fruit Company, a US company, was extracting
much of the nation’s wealth to benefit the company’s shareholders. The
Company owned the railroad infrastructure, an entire port, and most of
the good farmland. A small class of Guatemalan elites enabled the
extraction. That left a huge class of very poor, landless people, mostly
Mayan speaking Indians.
In 1954, the elected Guatemalan government passed a land reform law,
which would have forced the Company to sell its land to the Guatemalan
government for redistribution. The US backed a coup^
<#post-114200-endnote-1> that overthrew the legitimate government and
installed an unpopular dictator.^ <#post-114200-endnote-2> He
provoked a rebellion and then conducted a retaliatory genocide that went
on for decades, through a series of right-wing dictators. By the end of
that period in 1996, more than 200,000 Guatemalans had died, mostly
indigenous people. Throughout that period, the US was training the
Guatemalan military in methods of terrorism, including torture and
scorched earth tactics. So American activity there has caused a huge
out-migration that is still going on.
In El Salvador, the US backed a military government that deployed death
squads and carried out massacres. US military and CIA organized,
trained, and funded much of that activity. Reagan’s administration gave
$5 or $6 billion to support it.
In Nicaragua in the late 1970s, a reformist group known as Sandanistas
overthrew a dictatorship. The US backed the dictator, and when he went
down, they backed the opposition to the Sandanista government, a group
called the Contras. To fund the Contras, Reagan’s officials smuggled
guns to Iran to get money. So that was the Iran-Contra scandal.
Nicaragua is an anomoly, because they have managed to maintain a stable
government with little out-migration.
Honduras remained loyal to the US, so Reagan’s administration developed
Honduras as a base from which the Contras attacked Nicaragua’s
Sandanista government. In 2009, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
helped overthrow the duly elected President Manuel Zelaya after he
introduced social reforms. The Honduran people arose in mass nonviolent
protest demonstrations, and Clinton helped block Zelaya’s return to
power. Since then, the murder rate has increased by 53%, much of it
political repression. By 2012, Honduras had the highest murder rate in
the world, according to the UN. An estimated one million Hondurans have
fled the situation there; keep them in mind: we’ll get back to them.
Meanwhile, in 1971, Nixon’s administration declared War on Drugs. Since
then, the US has forced drug cartels out of Columbia and Mexico, and the
cartels have gone to Central America. Gang violence took root in Central
American countries as an overlay of the political violence that the US
had already caused there. Groups such as the Contras that formed to
oppose reformist movements are now linked into the local drug gangs.
MS-13 looms large in the Mind of America. It’s a California gang that
the US has deported to Central America. It’s less important than the
Central American home-grown gangs, except as a stalking horse for Trump.
So the violence of the drug-trade on top of the violence of political
repression is one cause of today’s heavy migration from Central America.
It’s the stereotype, but it’s only part of the explanation. Another
cause is the high unemployment and low wages since the US stirred up
those governments and messed up their economies. A third cause is the
free trade-agreements that have driven an estimated 2 million people off
their lands by making small farmers compete with huge agribusinesses.
But most important for the future is a fourth cause of the huge
migration: Farmers are leaving their homes because their environmental
niche has collapsed. Their farms are failing, or natural disasters are
driving them off their land. They’re like the Dustbowl refugees. They’re
called “climate refugees.”
The climate problem is worst in an area called the Dry Corridor that
extends from southern Mexico to Panama. Climate change has caused a
10-year drought, water shortages, hurricanes, floods, mudslides, and a
rising sea level; and those conditions will only intensify as the
climate worsens. Says one specialist, “It’s going to be without
precedent in human history.” The US bears great responsibility for this
crisis as the greatest green-house gas polluter in this hemisphere and
the second greatest in the world after China.
Climate refugees have no legal status in either international law or
laws of nations.^ <#post-114200-endnote-3> Therefore, when migrants
ask for asylum, they have to give other reasons, which are already
recognized in legal codes. Presumably, many asylum seekers who may cite
violence in their home countries are really like Dustbowl refugees who
would starve if they stayed on their farms.
So the US bears enormous responsibility for political oppression and
economic disfunction in the migrants’ countries. It is the biggest
contributor to the destruction of their environmental niches. Therefore,
we have a huge share of the responsibility to take care of those
refugees that our policies have created.
*III. The Trump Administration Has Converted US Immigration Policy into
a Policy of Genocide*
Some Americans hate or fear migrants and blame problems on the
migration. Trump uses those beliefs to prop up his popularity. And to do
that, he’s been converting US immigration policy to a policy of
genocide. I’m going to tell you about Trump’s immigration policy, and
then I’ll show how it matches up with the definition of genocide.
Before Trump got in, US immigration policy was already unconscionable.
The US doesn’t want to concede that the right-wing dictatorships that it
supports create political refugees, so the US refuses to let most of
them in. For example, Clinton’s State Department refused to admit those
million Hondurans whom she helped turn into refugees. So Trump has taken
that bad situation and turned it into an atrocity.
The official turn toward genocide came on April 6, 2018, when Attorney
General Jeff Sessions announced a “zero tolerance policy” of prosecuting
everybody caught entering the US illegally. Previous practice had been
to deport most of them without prosecution. Two weeks later, journalists
were reporting that when undocumented immigrants were taken into
custody, US officials were taking their children from them. Nearly 3000
children were taken from their families between April 6 and June 20,
2018, when Trump issued an executive order ending “family separation,”
but not zero tolerance.
The Trump administration claims that seizing children is a necessary
consequence of the zero tolerance policy—they can’t stay with parents
who are being prosecuted. Let’s test that claim. Much hinges on the fact
that the courts cannot possibly process everyone caught entering the
+ Human Rights Watch reports that children have been taken from
adults who were not prosecuted.
+ Reuters reports that Homeland Security was considering separating
children as early as March 2017, 13 months before the zero tolerance
+ The New York Times reports that Trump’s Administration began
seizing children in October 2017, six months before zero tolerance.
+ And the kicker: not all of the separated families had crossed
illegally. Illegal entry is a federal misdemeanor, and illegal
re-entry is a federal felony.^ <#post-114200-endnote-4> Simply
showing up at the border and asking for asylum is not against the
law. Many of the people in the concentration camps are not “illegal”
So taking children is not tied to prosecuting adults. The other
rationale that US officials cite is that the well-being of the child
dictates removing them from the family’s custody. We can test that
rationale against data provided by the Department of Justice to the
Federal District Court of San Diego, which is overseeing the case
against the child separation policy.
From June 20, 2018, when the policy was rescinded, to July 30, 2018,
911 children were separated from their families, allegedly because the
parents were a danger to their children or could not take care of them,
or the adults with children were not really the parents. In one case, a
father allowed his feverish daughter to continue sleeping in his arms
rather than wake her to change her wet diaper; he had no criminal
history. Other cases involve traffic violations, drunk driving, drug
possession, a misdemeanor assault from 20 years ago, malicious
destruction of $5 worth of property, shoplifting, driving without a
license, and unsubstantiated allegations. The children were in shelters
for an average of 68 days; 4 of them for more than 300 days. Of the 911
children, 481 were under age 10, and 185 were under age 6.
Surely nobody in this room has missed the reports of abuses of children
in Border Patrol detention, so I am not describing it here. Suffice to
say that the child separation policy is not a necessary consequence of
prosecuting adults and is not designed to protect children. It’s a
policy designed to inflict pain on children and the people who love
them. Administration officials have said that it’s intended to deter
migration, but I think it is intended to satisfy sadistic, racist,
mysogynistic, and xenophobic urges and to court political support from
sadists, racists, mysogynists, and xenophobes. I also suspect some
underlying pedophilic motive.
*IV. American Taboos*
We have a taboo against talking about concentration camps and genocide
at the hands of the US government, even though we also uphold the
principle that we’re free to do it. We need to be using those terms
anyway. If time permitted today, I’d also be talking about torture.
I take concentration camps personally, because the US herded my Seminole
and Muscogee forebears into concentration camps in Florida and Alabama
in the 1830s in preparation for a forced migration to this area, where
we were dumped into refugee camps and fed moldy food. So my family
culture has prepared me to ignore the taboos against speaking
analytically about the US government.
When I talk about concentration camps, I do it with reference to a
specific definition. You can find other definitions, but here’s
mine.^ <#post-114200-endnote-5> It has all the most frequently
mentioned elements. A concentration camp is
a place where large numbers of people (such as prisoners of war,
political prisoners, refugees, or the members of an ethnic or religious
minority) are confined without trial under armed guard.
Most of the definitions also end with an acknowledgment of the Nazi
Holocaust, making clear that the Nazi case is not a necessary element of
the definition. (So why is it in there at all?)
The migrant camps that our taxes are paying for are places, they confine
large numbers of people, the people are refugees and also members of a
distinct ethnic group, they are confined without trial, and they are
under armed guard. It’s all there. Those are concentration camps.
When I speak of genocide, I’m referring to the UN’s definition in the
Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. It
was adopted in 1948 after World War II, intended to prevent future
episodes like the Holocaust. A Polish Jewish lawyer named Raphael Lemkin
led the campaign for the Convention and coined the word genocide.
The US signed it in 1948 but did not ratify it until 1986. Sen. William
Proxmire (D-Wisc), he of the Golden Fleece Award, spoke for ratification
before the Senate every day that the Senate was in session from 1967 to
The Convention on Genocide has rarely been used. Cases have been
prosecuted regarding the Bosnian ethnic cleansing of 1992,^
<#post-114200-endnote-6> the Rwandan genocide of 1994,^
<#post-114200-endnote-7> and the Srebrenica Massacre of Bosnian Muslims
by Bosnian Serb military forces in 1995.^ <#post-114200-endnote-8>
The International Criminal Court is investigating the case of Darfur,
Sudan, 2003 to the present.
Here’s the definition of genocide:
In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts
committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national,
ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:
(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life
calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
Note the reference to “intent.” That makes proving genocide extremely
Note “in whole or in part.” You don’t have to try to destroy every
member of a targeted group. Intending to destroy part of it constitutes
Regarding section (a), 24 people have died in ICE custody under Trump
compared with 18 under Obama. The number of deaths of children who have
died in custody of other agencies since September is 6.^
<#post-114200-endnote-10> We’re seeing no governmental coordination in
these deaths, but individuals can commit genocide on their own
initiative, as encoded in article 4:
Persons committing genocide or any of the other acts enumerated in
Article 3 shall be punished, whether they are constitutionally
responsible rulers, public officials or private individuals.
I suspect a genocidal pattern on the part of some ICE and Border Patrol
officers, but proving it is probably impossible.
Section (b) recognizes serious mental harm as a type of genocide. I’ve
seen dozens of recent articles on the harmful effects—both mental and
physical—to children of separating them from their parents under the
present conditions. If you have children, you may agree that the effects
on parents can also constitute serious mental harm.
NBC News reports that children at the Yuma, Arizona, camp have reported
sexual assault and sexual harrassment. That’s serious mental harm.
Yahoo News reports that Border Patrol personnel have been seizing
people’s prescription medicines and not returning or replacing them.
Medicines included insulin, seizure medicines, and blood pressure
medicines. I’ve seen no reports on resulting harm to people, but let’s
keep this in mind in relation to “serious bodily harm.”
Section (e) states that the forced transfer of children from a targeted
group to another group is a form of genocide. The seizure and
incarceration of migrant children is a case of that. Although some of
the children are being restored to their families, many other cases have
not ended so well.
By June 20, 2018, when the child separation policy was rescinded, the
Trump administration had no system for reuniting children with their
families. A former acting director of ICE^ <#post-114200-endnote-11>
said, “I think we’re going to see hundreds of cases” in which children
will never be reunited with their families. That would be genocide.
Of the 3000 or so children who were taken from their families from April
6 to June 20, 2018, 81 were given into foster care by one of the largest
adoption agencies in the US. Bethany Christian Services denies that they
intend to put the children up for adoption, but they also waived their
international adoption application fee when they received the children.
The international adoption industry has been shrinking, and American
couples seeking to adopt are having trouble finding children. By June
20, Laura Ingraham on FOX News was calling on the government to make
adoption of those migrant children easier for US citizens.
A federal law, the Adoption and Safe Families Act (1997), provides
that—not counting cases where the child is with relatives—when a child
has been in foster care for 15 out of 22 consecutive months, child
welfare agencies must stop trying to restore the child to their parents
and instead must seek to terminate parental rights and make the child
available for adoption. Migrant parents in concentration camps may not
be able to reclaim their children in time and cannot participate in
court proceedings relating to termination of their rights. Combined, the
zero tolerance policy and the Adoption and Safe Families Act amount to a
formal national policy of genocide.
*V. The Big Picture*
Are you thinking that we’ll elect a Democrat next year, and the new
administration will make the concentration camps go away, and we’ll all
get back to normal? That’s not likely. We may never be able to uproot a
concentration camp system once it gets settled into the government.
Andrea Pitzer, author of One Long Night: A Global History of
warns that a system of concentration camps goes through an initial phase
of about 3 or 4 years during which it sometimes can be shut down, but
after that it’s nearly unstoppable. It becomes like bindweed with roots
extending throughout the society.
People who own stock in private migrant concentration camps are getting
rich from this genocide. Companies are getting contracts to provide
supplies; so shareholders are profiting. Many people have jobs in the
camps and the supply companies. Adoption agencies have found a new
supply of warm bodies to sell to eager childless couples. Pedophile
rings are picking off the slow and the weak from that same population of
kids. There seems to be a lot of money in pedophilia, judging from
Jeffrey Epstein’s wealth. Towns with concentration camps would lose jobs
if the camps closed. Their tax bases would suffer. Their businesses
would suffer. Their residents would not vote for a Congress member who
voted to close the camps. The people who are profiting from the camps
give money to elected officials and tell them not to close the camps. In
July of last year, the annual cost of incarcerating only the children
was nearly $1 billion.^ <#post-114200-endnote-12>
Consider that Obama tried and failed to close Guantanamo. It’s nearly
impossible to close a system of concentration camps after it takes root.
Pitzer says that only an outside power like another nation stops it
then. And what power is strong enough to force the US to weed out a
component institution? It’s even worse than that. Torture takes root in
a system of concentration camps and progresses toward killing. Climate
migration is only going to intensify, and we’re facing a dystopian
future of haves, have nots, and a huge, ever growing population of
unfree humans—or something worse. By a generous estimate, we have about
three years to prevent that.
/*Susan Miller* is a scholar of American Indian history and culture./
1) President Eisenhower’s Secretary of State John Foster Dulles had been
legal counsel to United Fruit Company for a long time, and now he led
the US in backing the coup*.* ↑ <#post-114200-endnote-ref-1>
2) Carlos Castillo Armas ↑ <#post-114200-endnote-ref-2>
3) Todd Miller, /Storming the Wall: Climate Change, Migration, and
Homeland Security./ As of this writing, New Zealand was considering a
bill to recognize climate refugees. ↑ <#post-114200-endnote-ref-3>
4) You can get as much as twenty years for that if you have an
“aggravating felony.” A zero tolerance policy called Operation
Streamline had been on the books since 2005, but people with children
were seldom prosecuted. Most prosecutions were of people with records of
serious crimes or people who had reentered after being deported. The
Trump-Sessions policy introduced the targeting for prosecution of people
who come with children. Its damage is compounded by new obstacles to
legal asylum. And Trump’s administration is prosecuting people for
merely seeking asylum, which is said to be an iffy proposition under
international law. ↑ <#post-114200-endnote-ref-4>
5) I have combined definitions by Merriam-Webster and Andrea Pitzer. ↑
6) In 2007, a tribunal found genocide in the 1992 Bosnian ethnic
cleansing campaign. There have been no convictions in that case, but it
appears that intent is still being adjudicated/(Bosnia and Hertzegovina
v. Serbia and Montenegro,/ 2007). ↑ <#post-114200-endnote-ref-6>
7) The first prosecution under its terms was in 1998, when a former
mayor of a town in Rwanda and the prime minister of Rwanda’s caretaker
government were found guilty. ↑ <#post-114200-endnote-ref-7>
8) Serbia is accused of breaking the law by failing to prevent the
massacre and some other violations. ↑ <#post-114200-endnote-ref-8>↑
9) That’s according to an excellent article on concentration camps in
Esquire, June 13, 2019. ↑ <#post-114200-endnote-ref-10>
10) John Sandweg, Obama’s acting director of ICE, ↑
11) Ashley Curtin, “Detaining Immigrant Children—A Billion Dollar
Industry,” Nation of Change, July 14, 2018. ↑ <#post-114200-endnote-ref-12>
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