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Dachau fence line

The fence line at Dachau Concentration Camp in Germany.

When children who have been separated from their parents and guardians are crammed into buildings where they sleep on cement floors under lights that never get shut off, you are missing the point when you argue about what to call those buildings.

That is what Elise Stefanik did last week, when she criticized another New York congresswoman, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, for calling these facilities “concentration camps.”

Stefanik got indignant over Ocasio-Cortez’s use of the phrase, bringing up Anne Frank and saying Ocasio-Cortez needed to be educated on the Holocaust.

Concentration camps predate the Holocaust and have been used in various parts of the world at various times, not that it matters. What matters is what has been happening in the camps at the southern border run by the U.S. government, and that is a national disgrace.

Use of the term “concentration camp,” Stefanik said, is “inexcusable.” She then spoke in a reasonable way about what should be done to alleviate the border crisis, such as increasing funding for border security and immigration courts and addressing the instability in Central and South American countries.

Her viewpoint is upside-down. The inexcusable thing is the neglect and abuse of children, happening now at the southern border. Yes, as Stefanik said, “root causes” of the crisis need to be addressed — but first, make sure no more children are abused.

Children have been taken from relatives and put in places so crowded and inadequate, they are unable to bathe. Mothers cannot wash the bottles they use to nurse their babies. This is an emergency.

It’s absurd and infuriating to hear Stefanik and other Republican politicians harping on a single phrase uttered by a single Democratic congresswoman, while children are dying. It’s as if they are desperate for a distraction.

Remember five months ago, when President Trump issued an emergency declaration? This is the first sentence of that document: “The current situation at the southern border presents a border security and humanitarian crisis that threatens core national security interests and constitutes a national emergency.”

Why doesn’t Stefanik call on Trump to address that emergency now? Make an emergency appropriation to bring in more staff, more doctors and nurses, more hygienic supplies and bedding and healthy food. We may be helpless to affect this situation, sitting at home and weeping over the images on TV, but Trump isn’t. Trump could send help today. Why isn’t Stefanik demanding that?

The crisis is not what we call camps where children are held in inhumane conditions. The crisis is that these camps exist.

Another time, after we deal with more important things, the argument over use of the phrase “concentration camps” can be fully explored, in all its historical, moral and linguistic permutations.

Right now, children’s lives are at risk, and some have already been lost. They need triage, not talk. Later on, we can fight over how to properly describe their suffering.

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Local editorials represent the opinion of the Post-Star editorial board, which consists of Editor Ken Tingley, Projects Editor Will Doolittle, Publisher/Controller/Operations Director Brian Corcoran and citizen representatives Connie Bosse, Barb Sealy and Alan Whitcomb.

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