Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez claimed on Monday that the United States government was operating “concentration camps” on the U.S.-Mexico border, which critics said was insensitive to Holocaust survivors while defenders claimed the comparison was valid.
During a livestreamed Instagram video, the freshman representative from New York decried the fact that some migrant children were being held at an Oklahoma Army base that had been used to imprison Japanese-Americans during World War II, The Washington Post reported.
“The fact that concentration camps are now an institutionalized practice in the home of the free is extraordinarily disturbing, and we need to do something about it,” Ocasio-Cortez said, adding that President Trump was implementing “an authoritarian and fascist presidency.”
On Tuesday morning, she shared an Esquire article in which historians said the detention facilities fit the definition of concentration camps, which were most notoriously used by the Nazi regime during the Holocaust but have also been used by other governments throughout history. The Nazis were unique in designing some of their concentration camps specifically for killing rather than for forced labor or indefinite detention.
But Rep. Liz Cheney, the #3 Republican in the House of Representatives, said that Ocasio-Cortez’s comparison was offensive.
“Please @AOC do us all a favor and spend just a few minutes learning some actual history,” Cheney tweeted. “6 million Jews were exterminated in the Holocaust. You demean their memory and disgrace yourself with comments like this.”
“What do YOU call building mass camps of people being detained without a trial?” Ocasio-Cortez responded. “How would you dress up DHS’s mass separation of thousands children at the border from their parents?” She added that she specifically was referring to concentration camps, not death camps.
The Republican Jewish Coalition said in a statement that Ocasio-Cortez’s language was “disgraceful.”
“Six million Jews were killed in the Holocaust,” the organization said in a statement. “It is disgraceful for Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to compare our nation’s immigration policies to the horrors carried out by the Nazis. We would hope that Rep. Ocasio-Cortez knows better, but sadly she does not.”
But the liberal advocacy group Bend the Arc: Jewish Action stood behind Ocasio-Cortez.
“Whether we call them concentration camps, mass detention centers, or cages for children, they are a moral abomination,” CEO Stosh Cotler said in a statement. “The real question is not what we call these mass detention sites growing all over the country, the question is: what is every government official and citizen doing to stop this evil? Our government is scapegoating, demonizing, and terrorizing immigrants. These policies echo the worst of Jewish history and the worst of American history. Anyone distracting from these clear facts with manufactured outrage is subverting Jewish history and trauma, and that is shameful. Jewish Americans overwhelmingly reject the hateful, anti-immigrant policies being perpetrated by the very people pretending to be offended on our behalf.”