One of the biggest stories in the international press over the last few weeks has received comparatively little recognition domestically. It is simply this: Children waiting in the makeshift camp at the U.S. / Mexico border have been numbered, with their numbers written on their arms in the style of the Jews in the Nazi concentration camps.
Unsurprisingly, it received considerable attention in the Israeli press, such as the Jerusalem Post and the Times of Israel. It wasn’t restricted to there, though. The story showed up in newspapers in the UK, Australia, Italy, Japan, South Africa, Brazil, and Hong Kong… and those are just the ones I saw.
Most of the stories stemmed from the same place: an NBC reporter’s video showing numbered children, shared on Twitter.
From this video, and from the stories, a narrative has gone viral – again, mostly outside the borders of the United States. It is simply this: that Donald Trump’s immigration service is following the Nazi framework, and that the next step may be brutal.
The hit to the American reputation is considerable. There is, however, no truth to it.
Even CNN – hardly a media source friendly to Trump – has worked to correct the record and clear America’s border workers from culpability in this. In a piece about the origin of the numbers, they explain:
Gabriel Reyes with the Mexican Red Cross in Juarez told CNN that the system was created a few weeks ago to get migrants off the bridge and into shelters, and that migrants themselves wrote the numbers on their arms as a way to prove their place in line for processing.
A representative of advocacy group Casa del Migrante told CNN that the numbers create order for migrants. Staff and volunteers with Casa del Migrante offer migrants the option of writing down their number on a slip of paper or on their arm so they have their number.CNN
It is not the American or even the Mexican government which is encouraging writing numbers on these people. It is the immigrant advocacy group. The numbers are not exclusive to children; they are used for all of the people there… but only for those who want them.
The numbers have come to serve a second purpose, as well. With supplies limited, distribution has become linked to the number system. People typically have to present a number on their arm or one of the specific paper slips that show their line placement in order to get food and other supplies. In this way, it allows the aid workers to distribute evenly what they have.
There are problems at the border. What there is not, however, is an attempt to recreate the Nazi concentration camps. Allowing that story to fester only fuels international distrust of America. When that distrust is earned, it’s earned. When it is the stuff of paranoia and conspiracy, it must be corrected.