Sanders calls for the shutdown of the Berks County Family Detention Center
Before a packed house at the Santander Performing Center in Reading, Pa. this Thursday, Sen. Bernie Sanders made a firm statement on a hot-button issue for the immigrant community.
“It is time to shut down the Berks County Family Detention Center.”
The crowd in Reading — a town with a 58 percent Latino population according the 2010 U.S. Census — came to its feet and began chanting ‘Shut down Berks." Sanders went on to denounce the alleged health care violations and other controversial situations that have been reported at the institution, which had its license revoked by the U.S. Department of Human Services in January.
“The government should not be in the painful and inhumane business of locking up families who have fled unspeakable violence in Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador and other countries throughout the world," Sanders said. "Instead, we should treat these families with the compassion, the dignity and the respect they deserve."
Introducing the candidate at the beginning of the rally was Adanjesús Marín. The Reading-area activist is the director of Make the Road Pennsylvania — which organizes low-income and working class Latino immigrants in Lehigh and Berks counties — and is also a board member of Working Families PA.
“The crowd was overwhelming,” he said. “They packed the venue to its capacity and showed very high energy. There was plenty of anticipation going on because a lot of us knew he would be denouncing the situation at Berks. When he finally said it, people were tremendously excited to see a national figure come out for an issue that is key to Latinos in the area.”
Marín said the remark was “a step forward in a fight that has taken too long already."
Erika Almirón, executive director of Philly-based immigration organization Juntos, said Sanders’ statement speaks to how important the issue is, which transcended from the local space to a national sphere.
“Moving forward, a Sanders presidency would focus on issues like mass incarceration, immigration and detention, which are key to the Black and Latino communities," she said.
Juntos said in a press release that it "hopes this inspires other presidential candidates to speak out about the injustice of keeping our families and children locked up."
Almirón said that although the cause has made great strides over the past year, the organization will continue pressing forward until the detention center is shut down permanently.