145 organizations stand against the repurposing of the Berks County Detention Center, demand it’s shut down for good
The former migrant family detention center is reportedly being considered by ICE to become a women’s-only center.
On Sunday, Feb. 28, Senator Bob Casey announced that all of the families held at the Berks County Residential Center have been released, something that immigration activists have been fighting for since 2015.
While many organizations, such as the Shut Down Berks Coalition, celebrated the long-awaited victory, they knew this was no time to start relaxing. The center may be empty now, but until any and all ICE and DHS contracts are terminated, the fight will continue.
As we celebrate this win, we remain on alert. We know that ICE operates w/o accountability & oversight. Until the contract is cut & Berks is permanently shut down, the fight is not over.
Learn more about the facility #FirstTen #CommunitiesNotCages #ShutDownBerks pic.twitter.com/8rzIt4oqmv
— Detention Watch (DWN) (@DetentionWatch) March 2, 2021
ICE and Berks County Commissioners have been conducting private negotiations concerning future use. According to an anonymous DHS official in the Washington Post, ICE is considering turning the Berks County Detention Center into a women’s-only detention center.
In response to this news, more than 100 organizations penned a letter to the Biden administration, urging them to terminate all ICE and DHS contracts within the county, and shut down the Berks County center for good.
On Friday, March 5, members of the Shut Down Berks Coalition and many others, sent a letter directly to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, demanding that he sever all ties with the Berks facility as well as the Karnes and Dilley Detention Centers, located in Texas.
Email the Biden administration and demand that they shut down the Berks, Karnes and Dilley family prisons for good. We will not accept that these facilities continue to be used #CommunitiesNotCages
White House: https://t.co/Sd4Vl6If7B
Secretary of DHS: [email protected] pic.twitter.com/l36oUnhK67
— Shut Down Berks Coalition (@ShutDownBerks) March 6, 2021
“Our communities do not need immigrant prisons; we need health and human services and freedom,” they wrote.
In the letter, the organizations explained to Secretary Mayorkas that for the first time since 2001, the walls of the Berks County Detention Center have not detained immigrant families. For these tireless advocates, this is a win, but it is merely the first step of many more to come in order to finally end the cruel practice of incarcerating immigrants in the U.S.
As long as anyone is in ICE custody for any length of time our work is not done. Turning Berks into an adult jail is an expansion effort at a time when they should be freeing people. There is no reason to detain families at Karnes or Dilley for any length of time. This ain’t it https://t.co/2pdhQOVjCZ
— SG (@setareh_june) March 6, 2021
They strongly rejected the new plans to “detain, process, incarcerate, or subject” immigrant women or any others to federal actions within the now empty facility. The members of these 100+ organizations, such as Families Belong Together, Free Migration Project and Amistad Law Project, are intimately familiar with the abuses that take place in women's detention centers.
This center used to be a family detention center, but after it was exposed for abuse, it was transitioned into a detention center for immigrant women.
“This did not stop abuse at the facility; it only changed who was subject to harm,” the letter reads.
Last year, a group of 140 Cameroonian women detained at the T. Don Hutto detention center organized a sit-in to protest medical neglect and other abuses in immigration detention.
Read for more about their leadership to #FreeThemAll & #AbolishDetention https://t.co/Sz5Wird3E5
— Detention Watch (DWN) (@DetentionWatch) January 12, 2021
The advocates also said that not only does the community oppose this possible women’s detention center, but Pennsylvania elected leaders also stand against it.
Senator Casey, Governor Tom Wolf, members of the House of Representatives and the state legislature have stated that they don’t want an immigration detention center in their backyard.
Accordingly, we reiterate our strong opposition to the practice of detaining families who seek asylum in the United States, especially the practice of separating children from their parents.
— Governor Tom Wolf (@GovernorTomWolf) July 3, 2018
Additionally, residents of Berks County have been requesting for years that the facility be transformed into a community health and human services center.
“Secretary Mayorkas, we are seeking your leadership to fight against the dehumanization of immigrants. We raise our collective voice because we are tired of years of abuse, unfulfilled promises, inequality and dehumanization,” the advocates wrote.
One hundred and forty-five organizations co-signed the letter, including Juntos, Haitian American Voice, Make the Road Pennsylvania, National Korean American Service & Education Consortium and RAICES.