Stefanik disputes AOC calling migrant detention facilities ‘concentration camps’

(Stefanik photo by Watertown Daily Times; Ocasio-Cortez photo is official congressional portrait)

Elise Stefanik took issue with fellow U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez referring to migrant detention camps on the country’s southern border as “concentration camps” last week.

Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, responded by tweeting about a Holocaust education act she co-introduced and saying the congresswoman from the Bronx needs to learn the history.

“I think that she needs to educate herself,” Stefanik said in a phone interview on Thursday. “That was something that I learned in school. I vividly remember reading Anne Frank’s diary in sixth grade. As we see these numbers moving globally with lack of education on the Holocaust … frankly it’s disappointing that clearly in this case the member of Congress themselves needs to be educated.”

Ocasio-Cortez’s comments came during an Instagram live stream on June 17 when she was talking about news that unaccompanied Latin American children who enter this country illegally are detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and handed to the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, which moved them to Fort Sill in Oklahoma. Fort Still was where nearly 700 Japanese-Americans were held in an internment camp during World War II on suspicion that they were sympathetic to or aiding Japan.

“The United States is running concentration camps on our southern border,” Ocasio-Cortez said.

On June 20 Stefanik said Ocasio-Cortez’s comments were “horrific” and called on her to apologize, adding that several Jewish organizations have rebuked the comments, too.

“Making any comparison to the murdering and the slaughtering of not only millions of Jews, but Poles, Catholics — there is no comparison,” Stefanik said.

While the most common use of “concentration camp” is in reference to the Nazi Germany-era camps where many people were executed, concentration camp is defined by Merriam-Webster dictionary as any place where “large numbers of people, especially political prisoners or members of persecuted minorities, are deliberately imprisoned in a relatively small area with inadequate facilities, sometimes to provide forced labor or to await mass execution.”

Many nations before and after Nazi Germany have run concentration camps.

“The comments, the term, it’s inexcusable,” Stefanik said. “She should apologize. I condemn the statement she made, and she should apologize and educate herself on the horrors of the Holocaust and not make a comparison to it again.”

Conditions in many U.S. migrant detention camps, especially ones in charge of holding children, have been reported on and investigated recently, exposing lapses in medical oversight and a lack of proper supplies, such as soap.

“For any of the individuals, but particularly for the young children, we need to make sure that we’re providing the best health care possible,” Stefanik said. “We need to get to the root cause, which is the crisis at the border and lack of border security, lack of funding for our border personnel. I’ve put forth proposals in terms of, we need to address our border security, we need to increase funding to the court system so we don’t have a backlog, we need to make sure that we’re increasing our border personnel so that we have the facilities that we need, and we also need to address the instability in South and Central America.”

She said people flee countries in those areas because of lack of economic hope and political instability.

Internal ICE memos journalist Ken Klippenstein, of the progressive Young Turks media group obtained through the Freedom of Information Act show ICE officials, whose names have been redacted, warning Acting Director (now Deputy Director) Matthew Albence that the agency’s health services corp is “severely dysfunctional” and that “preventable harm and death to detainees has occurred.”

The official’s memo includes cases of detainees with tuberculosis being transported, risking exposure to others, delay of services for people with low blood pressure or experiencing hypertension during pregnancy, resulting in a “failure to rescue” and C-section, respectively, and the ICE employee’s personal account of 12 warnings of a suicidal detainee being ignored, resulting in the man’s death.

“It’s inexcusable to have any loss of life, so I would support increased funding for health care,” Stefanik said.

When asked if these detention centers are the best way to handle illegal border crossings, Stefanik said Congress should focus on the root of the problem by funding courts and increasing border security.

“That’s not just a physical barrier,” Stefanik said. “That includes increased technology and increased support for the humanitarian crisis that’s on the southern border.”

Stefanik mentioned Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and 2018 and 2020 NY-21 Democratic candidate Tedra Cobb’s statements that they do not want one dollar going to the funding of a border wall.

“That’s not the right approach,” Stefanik said. “The way to address this is making sure that we’re fully funding our border security needs.”

Cobb was not immediately available for comment, but Tony Coppola, Cobb’s campaign director, said while she does not support border wall funding, the Democrat supports funding security measures, including personnel and technology.

Ocasio-Cortez declined an invitation Sunday from the Holocaust commemoration group From the Depths to tour the Auschwitz Nazi concentration camp with a 93-year-old survivor. She rejected the tour in a tweet to Rep. Steve King of Iowa, whom Stefanik previously voted to reprimand and remove from two House committees for comments supporting white nationalism and anti-Semitism.