Systemic Failure

6 min readJun 28, 2019


This is what we have come to. The government running concentration camps on US soil in our name. Children being essentially kidnapped and abused by our government in our name. Two and three year old children having to be taken care of by seven and eight year old children. In our name. And all those children being held in conditions of squalor. Overcrowded. Hungry and underfed. Forced to sleep on cement floors with a wool blanket in an overly air conditioned cage, sometimes with no provision for showers, diapers, soap, and a toothbrush. In our name. And these children, unsurprisingly considering the conditions, are getting sick and sometimes dying. In our name.

Every one of these children is innocent, simply because two, three, seven, and eight year old children are by definition innocent. They are innocent because they have broken no law. They have legally shown up at the US border as part of a family that is requesting asylum, a perfectly legal thing to do. They are innocent because no court has found them guilty of anything. Yet a serial killer on death row is treated far more humanely by our government than these innocent children that our government has stolen from their families.

The real criminals in this tragedy are CBP and the government bureaucrats who are driving this insane policy of family separation and detention. CBP is violating the law every single minute of every single day. The law states that these children can only be held by CBP for 72 hours. Many are kept in these cages for far longer than that legally mandated period, sometimes for weeks. Even when CBP does something as mundane as transporting these children to other, hopefully better, facilities, they violate the law by not having the required car seats for these infants. And that’s assuming those transported aren’t forced to remain in a van for more than 24 hours because the transfer has not been coordinated correctly.

The law says these children must be kept in safe and sanitary conditions. There is nothing safe and sanitary about the conditions in these CBP facilities. In fact, the administration was in court earlier this week actually arguing that safe and sanitary did not necessarily mean providing showers, soap, and a toothbrush; safe and sanitary did not necessarily mean that children should not be required to sleep on a concrete floor; did not necessarily mean that blankets should be provided. And they argued that indefensible, inhumane position in our name. Most importantly, the family separation policy itself is illegal. But it continues. Illegally. In our name. Of course, the primary culprit is not CBP but the Trump administration led by chief concentration camp commandant, Steven Miller, who apparently believes that ICE and CBP aren’t harsh enough.

Bizarrely, the actual existence of these camps and the conditions inside them has been overtaken by arguing about what to call them. Republicans, as is their wont, believe the answer is just getting everyone to accept the correct framing, as if that will solve the problem. They can’t be “concentration camps” because they are not “death camps”, even though children are dying in them. Maybe they should be called “internment camps” or “detention facilities” or, the most outrageous one, “summer camps”. Of course, concentration camp experts describe them as concentration camps. Experts in torture describe them as “torture facilities”. Torture facilities. For children. In our name. Other Republicans simply live in denial, stating that anyone on these facilities is “free” to leave at any time. As if two and three year-old children can simply get up and decide to climb the fences surrounding them and then go where?

Trump simply resorts to lying, saying that he ended the family separation policy that Obama started and that conditions for these children are better than what existed when he took office. Pence blames the conditions on lack of funding from Congress. But CBP is turning away caring, individual citizens who show up at these camps with soap, toothbrushes, diapers, and other supplies for those held, claiming it has all the resources it needs. Others simply say that CBP is overwhelmed by the number of refugees it is having to process.

The reality is that these concentration camps are a policy choice. There is no good reason that all those seeking asylum need to be detained. They could simply be released to other family members or guardians until their asylum hearing or other related court appearances. History has shown that 99 out of 100 of those released in such a manner show up for those hearings. It is also a policy choice to not direct enough government resources to adequately care for those interned. There is plenty of money within DHS to do so. The Trump administration simply chooses not to, chooses to make the conditions as horrific as possible under some twisted theory of deterrence or, more likely, outright racism. All in our name. It is a policy choice to ensure that we, the American citizens whose government is acting in our name, do not learn and, most importantly, do not see what is going on in these camps. The Trump administration hides behind phony legalisms such as the privacy concerns of the detainees. But even the limited tours of the facilities provided to reporters restrict photos, audio, and interviews. It is a government-ordered blackout. In our name.

Maddingly, frighteningly, it also appears that nothing substantive is being done to actually shut down these camps. All Congress can seemingly pass is a bill that will possibly alleviate some of the worst conditions in these camps, assuming Trump actually uses that money appropriately. But, because of GOP intransigence, the bill doesn’t even provide any enforceable standards for how these concentration camps should be run or even a commitment to improved hygiene and nutrition. It does nothing to actually getting us closer to closing them.

This inability to confront the crimes happening in front of our face is illustrative of the paralysis that extends across our government and our democracy. Another woman has come forward, accusing the President of sexual assault. That brings the total number of women with claims of sexual assault against Trump to somewhere in the mid-to-high teens and she joins at least four of those women in having contemporaneous reports of those attacks. And, of course, the President has also been named as a criminal co-conspirator in the payoffs to women he was having consensual affairs with. Robert Mueller reported up to ten potential criminal efforts by the President to obstruct justice. The President is making millions of dollars from his businesses in direct violation of the Emoluments Clause. The Trump administration is ignoring subpoenas and generally preventing Congress from exercising its constitutional duty for oversight.

The crimes come one after another, building on themselves, with little being done to stop them. This is largely a result of the moral collapse of the Republican party which has morphed into a vehicle for nothing more than maintaining its own power at almost any cost. But, sadly, the Democrats are in their own small way becoming complicit. There is no effort in Congress to shut down these concentration camps. In fact, the supposedly humanitarian aid bill the Democrats just signed on to will probably be used to expand the number of camps that exist. Some may say that the fact that Mueller was allowed to complete his job shows that our institutions are holding. But, if Democrats refuse to purse the charges Mueller lays out, what was the point. Some will say that the courts are slowly doing their job, hearing the Emoluments case and the cases against those who have defied Congressional subpoeanas. But if those cases drag on beyond the 2020 election, again, what was the point.

Disturbingly, the Democratic strategy seems to rely on beating Trump and the Republicans at the ballot box which sounds like the right, proper, and normal thing to do until you realize that the Electoral College is skewed against them and the latest Supreme Court ruling will mean that in many states they will have little or no political power despite winning the majority of the votes. The majority in that partisan gerrymandering case basically based its decision on its own inability or, more likely, unwillingness, to find a way to protect our democracy.

This is what institutional failure looks like. The institutions are still there. They still engage in performative functions. But they have no effect, they can enforce no accountability. They are merely a decorative façade on the collapsing interior of our democracy. And it is this type of systemic failure that leads to the creation of concentration camps. In our name.

Originally published at on June 28, 2019.




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