Amanpour Links Immigrant 'Kids in Cages' to Slavery Legacy

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On Friday's Amanpour and Company show on PBS, host Christiane Amanpour joined guest Ta-Nehisi Coates in linking the legacy of slavery in America to illegal immigrant children being held in cage-like detention centers as Coates promoted his new book, The Water Dancer.

Amanpour even commented that it was "hard" to hear her guest say the words "kids in cages," even though these detention centers were built by the Barack Obama administration and designed that way to make it easier for Border Patrol agents to watch out for the wellbeing of detainees as they are held typically for a short period (less than 72 hours) after apprehension until they can be transferred to longer-term facilities.

Coates recalled feeling angry while visiting former President Thomas Jefferson's home at Monticello as the liberal author did research for his novel that takes place in the time of slavery. Coates recounted that Jefferson's hundreds of slaves were sold after his death and their families broken up because the former President went into debt:

Here you are on the property of someone (Thomas Jefferson) who lived off of the backs of hundreds of people, and not only lived off of their backs, went into debt buying expensive finery, champagne, you know, living the life of a king so that when he died, those people that he allegedly, you know, was responsible for were, in fact, sold off. And those families were broken up, and they all suffered for a man who knew that what he was doing every hour was evil and was wrong.

Amanpour soon followed up by tying the treatment of illegal immigrants to slavery: "And yet, I mean, a lot of the aspects that come through in this book exist today. First, and foremost, child separation from their parents is happening right now."

Stock footage of children lying in the detention centers was shown briefly. Amanpour did not bother to clarify that typically it is only immigrants who cross the border illegally who are detained.

Coates picked up Amanpour's suggestion and ran further with it:

What I think is when you have a country that in its, you know, nascent colonial roots, in its early history, practiced a policy of family separation for profit -- when at the end of, you know, the Civil Rights Movement, I would argue practically there's more family separation through the expansion of the cultural state in this country. When, you know, post after the Civil War practice a policy of family separation through convict leasing where people who had committed petty crimes were sent off to jail, fathers very often.

He then added:

If that becomes part of your history -- if it's something that society practices, it becomes easy then to therefore practice it at the border. And so I think those of us who are somewhat familiar with that history are not surprised to see kids in cages. It's not the first time we've done that.

Amanpour further commented: "It's actually hard even to hear you say that, 'kids in cages.'"

Below is a transcript of the relevant portion of the Friday, September 27, Amanpour and Company on PBS:

TA-NEHISI COATES, AUTHOR: Here you are on the property of someone (Thomas Jefferson) who lived off of the backs of hundreds of people, and not only lived off of their backs, went into debt buying expensive finery, champagne, you know, living the life of a king so that when he died, those people that he allegedly, you know, was responsible for were, in fact, sold off. And those families were broken up, and they all suffered for a man who knew that what he was doing every hour was evil and was wrong.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: And was lionized throughout history.

COATES: And is lionized throughout history. And I understand why -- he is a genius -- I make no mistake about that. But that's hard to take. It's hard to take when people know, and you can tell they know, and yet, nonetheless, you know what I mean, they fail to act. But if you're continuously angry all through it, you can't write. You can't write -- it would destroy you, you know what I mean? You would lose the ability to try to represent everyone with some degree of sympathy.

AMANPOUR: And yet, I mean, a lot of the aspects that come through in this book exist today. First, and foremost, child separation from their parents is happening right now.

COATES: Yes, it is, and I was not unaware of that, you know, as we got towards the end of, you know, our publication cycle. What I think is when you have a country that in its, you know, nascent colonial roots, in its early history, practiced a policy of family separation for profit -- when at the end of, you know, the Civil Rights Movement, I would argue practically there's more family separation through the expansion of the cultural state in this country. When, you know, post after the Civil War practice a policy of family separation through convict leasing where people who had committed petty crimes were sent off to jail, fathers very often.

If that becomes part of your history -- if it's something that society practices, it becomes easy then to therefore practice it at the border. And so I think those of us who are somewhat familiar with that history are not surprised to see kids in cages. It's not the first time we've done that.

AMANPOUR: It's actually hard even to hear you say that, "kids in cages."

NB Daily Immigration Race Issues Racism PBS Christiane Amanpour Ta-Nehisi Coates


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