The Struggle to Close the Concentration Camps

Written by La Voz East Bay
In April of 2018, the Trump administration announced its family separation policy, the illegal and inhumane practice of separating children from their families who are seeking asylum and crossing the border. However, evidence[1] shows the practice of separating families began months before then. After two months of public outcry, President Trump signed an order to end separation but it did not stop. In February 2019, amidst widespread activism, the ACLU sued the administration in federal court. In June, a U.S. District Court Judge ordered the government to return all children under five years old to their parents within 14 days and within 30 days for children over five years of age. There is still an unaccounted number of migrant children who are separated from their families, detained in privately owned and operated concentration camps.

The Underlying Causes

Most of the recent asylum seekers are coming from Central America, in the Northern Triangle; Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, where violent crime and economic conditions have caused them to flee. Behind this instability are the US government’s neoliberal policies in collaboration with the IMF and World Bank, material support for oligarchs, and the War on Drugs.
As Justin Akers Chacón, a prominent author & professor on Latin@ migrant rights history, puts it  in a recent informative article on the Concentration Camps crisis:
“While the most extreme and degraded conditions in the camps are the result of policies directly attributable to Trump, the overall growth of the migrant incarceration system has been a bipartisan project. The number of migrants held in detention[2] has increased under every presidential administration for over the last 25 years, and during periods in which both Democratic and Republican majority-controlled congress. “[3]
Justin Akers Chacón is also apt to point out that Trump is only continuing the bipartisan (i.e. Democratic and Republican Parties) policies that Obama and Bush Jr. had built and refined into what they are today :
“It’s important to point out that though migration rates have not increased[4] to a higher point than in the past, the fact that there is a deeply hated president in power who is more visibly criminalizing and pushing indefinite detention, former presidents Obama and Bush Jr. had been the ones who built the detention and deportation system that Trump has only deepened. Both of the twin parties of capitalism, the Republican and Democratic parties, are responsible and must be held accountable for causing this barbaric anti-immigrant rights system. “

Immigration is Used to Divide the Working Class

Many immigrants are forced into low-paying jobs and substandard living conditions, and then treated with hostility by native-born workers who see them as competitors. The antagonisms linked to this competition are fueled by racial and ethnic prejudices, artificially maintained and intensified by media outlets.  Anti-immigrant forces purport that immigration depresses the wages of native-born workers, though evidence shows the effect is very limited[5]. This anti-immigration rhetoric results in the working class being further divided. It is most important for Internationalists to have class-based solidarity and not blame immigrants for driving down wages but instead, the systems that force immigrants out of their homelands, and the exploitation that they face upon arriving in the US.
The combined announcement of President Trump on the week of June 18, 2019[6] (which then got delayed 2 weeks after facing some backlash) that his administration would enact another mass pursuit to imprison more undocumented immigrants in concentration camps, plus the recent viral images of dead and incarcerated migrants in inhumane conditions, once again brought this issue back to the US mainstream media, on a larger scale then before. Meanwhile, Trump has made new threats to deny asylum to migrants crossing the US-Mexico border[7].

Organizing, Actions/Strikes, & Resistance

Nonetheless, some long-time immigrants rights groups and newer coalitions (Lights for Liberty[8], and the Coalition to Close the Concentration Camps[9], a network that various organized and independent socialists and other leftists helped create), called a national coordinated day of action on July 12th to use public sentiment and build the movement to defend immigrants. The immigrant rights movement is cohering around the slogan of “close the (concentration) camps”, and we now have a bigger opportunity to use this framing to win most of the documented working class (and other middle class layers) to this movement.
The weekend leading up to the National Day of Action on July 12th, 2019 started off with numerous local actions organized by long-time immigrant rights groups (both nonprofits & grassroots organizations in alliance with other Latin@ and other migrant-based community groups) hosting rallies and other demonstrations calling for the closing of the concentration camps, ending the deportation raids, and raising other demands for more immigrant rights. Long-time grassroots organizations like Cosecha[10], California Immigrant Youth Justice Alliance (CIJYA[11]), and other grassroots organizations independent of the Democratic Party, along with newer coalitions like the Close the Concentration Camps, and labor union federations (AFL-CIO), and other more liberal coalitions that are tied with Democratic Party, like the Lights for Liberty coalition, were some of the key organizers for demonstrations/events on July 12th/13th.
Some reports say that nearly 800 demonstrations took place in all 50 states and also some in foreign countries[12], and from various news reports, the size of most noteworthy demonstrations ranged from a couple hundred to the low 1000s for some of the bigger demonstrations in places like San Diego[13], Cleveland, New York City, Aurora-Colorado, Portland, Philadelphia[14], and other regions that have been a hotbed for immigrant rights organizing in the past decade. Along with these demonstrations, there were protests like the one in Boston with the Never Again Action coalition, and the protest at Fort Sill in Lawton, Oklahoma[15], with Jewish, Japanese, and Native American protestors all emphasizing the connection of today’s camps with the concentration camps in the 1930s and World War 2 period.
A noteworthy labor work stoppage action took place at Wayfair[16], where hundreds of workers and community supporters came out to demonstrate against the role Wayfair plays in providing beds and other goods to a detention camp in Texas. There were also solidarity petitions at tech giants, Google, Microsoft[17], and one at Palantir[18], in the Palo Alto (Silicon Valley area), which is a tech company that provides the software that ICE uses to track and plan its raids. A noteworthy demonstration took place on July 16th in which 1,000+ immigrants and Jewish allies from Never Again Action and Movimiento Cosecha shut down ICE headquarters in Washington D.C., and demanded #DignityNotDetention for all immigrants.[19] And, there was a report that the community in Nashville, Tennessee was able to stop ICE from arresting a father and his son through forming a human chain to prevent the arrest[20].  This action showed again that the most secure community is an organized community.
In sum, this recent wave of actions has shown that the immigrant rights movement is still alive and kicking, though not as large as it could be and needs to be (the 2006 Day Without an Immigrant’s mass strike is a good goal to try to achieve[21]) in order to bring some needed rights to one of the most exploited and oppressed sectors of this country’s and the world’s working class. These grassroots groups and the wider movement have been able to use the recent spotlight on Trump’s terror to create more opportunities for community organizing.
The most glaring, momentary advance of the immigrant rights movement is that, so far, news and community reports show that the number of raids and people that were detained was not as high as had been expected (35 out of the 2000 migrants targeted were detained in the recent operation[22],[23]). There’s also the fact that “the Trump administration has so far deported fewer people, on average each year, than the Obama administration”. This shows that the immigrant/migrant community has been successful in getting more organized and building its own rapid response networks, while organizing efforts to minimize arrests and detainments[24].

The Necessity to Pressure and Target Democratic Party Politicians in the 2020 Election

One area where the wider immigrant rights movement today could improve upon, following the lead of Cosecha & CIJYA, for example, is to continue to put pressure on the Democratic Party (DP) politicians (and not just Trump and the Repulican Party politicians)[25]. The aforementioned July demonstrations were explicit in their target of DP politicians, those that vote for funding the border walls and ICE raids and those that are silent on the issue. Grassroots orgs like CIJYA and Cosecha understand the key to using electoral pressures coming up to an election year, and they have been using their media spotlight to also mention the key role that DP politicians have in funding the deportation and incarceration apparatus.
One thing that has recently become more clear, especially with the speeches and Tweets in July by President Trump, is that he is using these treats of deporations and incarceration to keep his racist and xenophobic base content[26],[27]. He wants to be seen as taking action on his campaign promise to have México fund the border wall, so he is more than happy to continue the historical scapegoating of migrants from Latin America, Africa, and other semi-colonial nations.
Since we are fast approaching the 2020 election year blitz, the movement could use this to its advantage and put pressure on the candidates that are running in the DP primary. Even self-described democratic socialist Bernie Sanders has been unclear if he supports the movement’s call to close the camps[28], and he doesn’t believe in abolishing ICE, nor is he against a border wall (he doesn’t agree with México or the US funding it but he’s okay with the wall we have now). As DP politicians go and to Alexandria Ocassio-Cortez’s credit, she helped spearhead the framing of the incarceration system as “concentration camps”.

Uniting & Building a Mass Movement to End Deportations and the Camps

The need to unite and connect the various grassroots immigrant rights groups, labor unions, and other community groups continues. We in Workers’ Voice/La Voz de l@s Trabajadores see this task as central in the work we have been doing since we started building our group, and we see the struggle to end migrant criminalization & discrimination as an ongoing campaign that must continue with the ebbs and flows of the immigrant rights movement[29]. The mass movement needed to end the deportation and incarceration machine must also connect to other national and international movements of the working and oppressed communities in order to increase the mass pressure needed to meet its demands.
Our movement must expand & unite the various struggles in order to approach mass strikes and other work-stoppages in our workplaces and communities, and this is possible as other movements (Sudan, Algeria, France, Hong Kong, Puerto Rico, etc.) are showing. With mass direct actions, we can call and implement the immediate ousting of the entire Trump administration (like many of the aforementioned movements in their respective nations), and build steps to cohere the working and oppressed movements and organizations into a mass party of the people (akin to a workers’/labor party). La Voz, as part of the IWL-FI, with its different organizations in the world, puts itself in service of the construction of a political leadership that realizes these tasks, both in the semi-colonial countries and in the imperialist countries in which we are present.

  • The working class has no borders! No human is illegal! Stop the criminalization of migration! Open the borders now!
  • Safe and humane asylum and shelter for all migrants!
  • The unions and social movements must organize solidarity actions with migrants on both sides of all the borders!
  • Out with U.S. imperialism in Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Mexico, and all nations!
  • Complete solidarity with all exploited and oppressed peoples that fight against dictators like Maduro/Guaidó, (Venezuela), Juan Orlando Hernández (Honduras) and Ortega (Nicaragua)!
  • Down with governments and dictatorships which serve Trump and the European Union!“


[21] More information on this historical protest

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