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September 19 2019

Why Ilhan Omar is So Wrong to Compare Border Detention of Illegal Immigrants to Slavery

by Patrice Lee Onwuka

Equating the detention of illegal immigrants at our Southern Border to slavery must stop now.

New video of freshman congresswoman Ilhan Omar making incendiary comments about border detention centers recently surfaced. 

On a visit to Ghana, she toured historical dungeons where African slaves were held during the slave trade. 

Omar claimed that she “couldn’t stop seeing images of the current camps we have here at our borders in the United States.”

She went on to say that many of the “horrifying” things that took place there in those dungeons four hundred years ago are taking place today in government-run detention centers.

It’s unbelievable that an elected official and a representative of the U.S government would draw any kind of comparison between the detention of illegal immigrants and slavery.

Let’s get a few things straight:

  1. Border detainees are not slaves they are lawbreakers. The African slaves were held against their wills. They did nothing to deserve to be captured and enslaved. Conversely, it is illegal to cross our border or overstay your visa and border detainees broke our laws to try to enter the U.S. Detention is a consequence of their actions. Equating the two groups of people to make the plight of illegal immigrants seem more sympathetic is insulting to those slaves and their descendants (of which I may be one).

  2. Detainees can return home. Illegal immigrants may be in the government’s custody but they are not government property. If a migrant is apprehended at the border, she cannot just leave, because she facies prosecution for illegal entry, but she can apply for “voluntary departure” or withdraw her request for admission. Provided there are no other criminal charges, she can be released to return home. Slaves did not have that privilege. They were owned by someone else and could not make such decisions for themselves.

  3. Dungeons are not detention centers. The Ghanan slave dungeons Omar referred to were horrible places:

“Up to 1,000 male and 500 female slaves were shackled and crammed in the castle’s dank, poorly ventilated dungeons, with no space to lie down and very little light. Without water or sanitation, the floor of the dungeon was littered with human waste and many captives fell seriously ill. The men were separated from the women, and the captors regularly raped the helpless women.”

U.S. detention centers, on the other hand, have beds, showers, toiletries, and meals. As PBS reports:

The South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, Texas is the largest facility with 2,400 beds. The sprawling area, where officials use golf carts to get around, has individual modular housing units, giving it the feeling of a refugee camp, according to people who have toured the center and spoke with the PBS NewsHour. The center includes recreation areas with soccer fields, basketball courts and handball courts, as well as a library.

In all three facilities, immigration officials say detainees are given three meals per day and have access to snacks at all hours. The facilities include classrooms where teachers hold classes each day.

And illegal migrant kids are not even in detention centers but shelters where they learn, eat, and play as the Guardian reports:

Their days are spent in lessons, learning English, reading, writing and maths, arts and crafts and science. Three hot meals and snacks are provided each day, with fish, rice and beans on the lunch menu on the day of the visit...

There are three soccer fields, volleyball and basketball courts, and organised events and competitions such as tug of war and running races. Communal areas also have giant screens for movies and Xbox games consoles which children can access at weekends and as a reward for good behaviour…”

Slaves were in chains, detainees are free to walk around the campuses. Slaves were crammed into a dark, putrid cell while detainees can play basketball and soccer or secure the health, legal, and educational services they need. Slaves stood or squatted shackled for weeks while detainees sleep in beds. Detainees are fed and cared for.

Omar sees detention through the eyes of slavery because it’s politically expedient to denigrate border enforcement efforts.

If there’s overcrowding, or if she’s unsatisfied with the services and care that our hard-working agents provide each day, she and her colleagues in Congress should provide the funding needed to improve conditions and make comprehensive immigration reform a priority. Ironically, when she had the chance a few months ago, she voted against providing that aid along with AOC and other squad members.

Securing our border is a number one priority for the Trump administration. They still have to address the needs of the overwhelming numbers of illegal immigrants trying to cross our borders.

Policymakers may not like border apprehensions or support border enforcement -- even though most Americans do -- but they are irresponsible when they denigrate efforts to get this crisis under control. Their criticism with no effort to fix the problems and develop long-term solutions only serves to undermine our system and make matters worse.  





Independent Women's Forum is an educational 501(c)(3) dedicated to developing and advancing policies that aren’t just well intended, but actually enhance people’s freedom, choices, and opportunities. IWF is the sister organization of the Independent Women’s Voice.​
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