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Ocasio-Cortez defends comparing migrant detention centers to 'concentration camps'

NBC News logo NBC News 6/18/2019 Dartunorro Clark
a person sitting at a table using a laptop computer: Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez © Yuri Gripas Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., on Tuesday defended her comments comparing migrant detention centers on the U.S. southern border to "concentration camps," which critics slammed as insensitive to Holocaust survivors.

The freshman lawmaker made the comparison while filming an Instagram Live Monday night in which she excoriated President Donald Trump's administration for its treatment of migrants at the border.

"The U.S. is running concentration camps on our southern border and that is exactly what they are. They are concentration camps," Ocasio-Cortez said. "I want to talk to the people that are concerned enough with humanity to say that 'never again' means something. 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."

Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., condemned Ocasio-Cortez for the remarks Tuesday.

"Please @AOC do us all a favor and spend just a few minutes learning some actual history. 6 million Jews were exterminated in the Holocaust. You demean their memory and disgrace yourself with comments like this," Cheney said on Twitter.

Josh Holmes, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's former chief of staff, called Ocasio-Cortez's comments "an alarming and dangerous false equivalence that suggests a breathtaking lack of appreciation for the unparalleled evil of the Holocaust."

However, the Democratic lawmaker refused to walk back the comparison, responding directly to Cheney's criticism in a Tuesday tweet.

"Hey Rep. Cheney, since you're so eager to 'educate me,' I'm curious: What do YOU call building mass camps of people being detained without a trial?" she wrote. "How would you dress up DHS's mass separation of thousands [of] children at the border from their parents?"

Ocasio-Cortez also tweeted a link to an Esquire magazine article, which quotes author and historian Andrea Pitzer calling the situation on the southern border "a concentration camp system" and defining concentration camps as the "mass detention of civilians without trial."

"This is not hyperbole. It is the conclusion of expert analysis," Ocasio-Cortez wrote Tuesday.

During her Instagram Live Monday, she said, "I don't use those words lightly. I don't use those words to just throw bombs. I use that word because that is what an administration that creates concentration camps is. A presidency that creates concentration camps is fascist and it's very difficult to say that."

The Democratic lawmaker noted the Trump administration's reported plan to house 1,400 undocumented migrant children at Fort Sill, an Oklahoma military base that was previously used to detain Japanese Americans during World War II.

President Barack Obama also used the base to house migrants but stopped after criticism, according to Time magazine.

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