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Shut Down Berks coalition activists holds a sign that reads "Shut Down Berks." Photo: Ben Hasty/MediaNews Group/Reading Eagle via Getty Images,
Shut Down Berks is a years long movement to permanently close operations at the Berks detention center, now repurposed as a migrant women's detention facility. Photo: Ben Hasty/MediaNews Group/Reading Eagle via Getty Images,

Biden’s arrival in Philly met with detention center backlash

The administration scheduled time to have the president campaign with John Fetterman, the Senate nominee running against Dr. Oz.

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Biden’s campaigning tour in Pennsylvania on Thursday, Oct. 20,  was promptly met by Shut Down Berks, a coalition of activists protesting the continued operation of the Berks County Detention Center, owned by the United States Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE), following numerous calls to shut it down. 

Biden came to Philadelphia to campaign with John Fetterman, the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate. 

This encounter is not the administration's first run-in with the coalition. In late August, Shut Down Berks marched to Biden’s doorstep on Capitol Hill to demand the permanent closing of the Berks facility, originally used to detain immigrant families. 

A spokesperson for the coalition then told AL DÍA they didn’t feel the Democratic administration was following through with their agenda, provoking a multi-state march toward the White House. 

“Biden can use his presidential powers to shut down Berks,” Adrianna Torres, a Shut Down Berks spokesperson, told AL DÍA. 

After taking office, Biden issued an executive order to address for-profit prisons as he considered extending the plan to ICE detention centers. 

The administration did not follow through with its considerations and moved forward with turning private prisons into for-profit immigration centers, a decision that elicited backlash from immigrant advocacy groups, who decried the administration’s choice as being driven by profit. 

Shut Down Berks has been rallying in Pennsylvania over the last few years to end the facility’s operations, but their efforts have thus far been unsuccessful. Torres told AL DÍA that despite repeated attempts to work with political campaigns, as well as county officials, conversations have not been fruitful. 

In 2018, Fetterman reached out to the coalition in regard to an interfaith vigil at Berks before the primaries. The group advised the Pennsylvania Lieutenant Governor that due to the “tone” of the vigil, they would not allow campaigning to happen, but that he was welcome to attend.

The group said they never heard from Fetterman again, and have cited unproductive conversations with the campaign. This week, tensions rose when the coalition received an automated donation request email from the Fetterman campaign, spurring backlash given their previous interactions. 

“THIS is why people get turned off by politics and politicians who are all words and no action. Yet despite it all, we keep fighting. Fighting for justice, fighting for freedom, fighting to end the abuse against those of our community,” the coalition wrote on Twitter. 

The group also alleged the Fetterman campaign launched its own Berks movement for fundraising purposes. 

As of February 2022, the county entered into a million-dollar agreement with ICE to repurpose the facility into a women’s detention center after being largely inoperable prior to the negotiations. 

County officials redirected local media inquiries to ICE officials, but it is known the county held hearings but did not take public intervention into account. The public’s view of the contract renewal was negatively received. 

Shut Down Berks hopes to meet with the Fetterman campaign, citing that, should he be successful in midterms, “he’ll have the president’s ear.” It is unclear whether the Fetterman camp is open to conversations with Berks, and if he’ll take on the matter of the detention facility just weeks away from Election Day. 

Additionally, Fetterman, during a debate, supported extending Title 42, a controversial Trump-era policy that allows for the immediate expulsion of refugees seeking asylum at the border. 

While Fetterman made clear the support was due to ongoing pandemic-related complications, his comments were condemned by the coalition. 

The Biden administration continues to struggle to keep its word related to contentious immigration policies in the U.S. Other advocacy groups in Washington D.C. protested in front of Alejandro Mayorkas’s residence for inaction on 287 (g), after receiving the vice president’s word to address them when she was a nominee in 2020. 

"We are forced to do this because Biden and Mayorkas have not fulfilled their promise to end this racist and xenophobic program. As an administration that is supposedly standing up against white supremacy and racism, they must prove it by ending the 287g program that legalizes racial profiling,” Christine Neumann-Ortiz, Executive Director at Voces de la Frontera, said in late July. 

AL DÍA News has reached out to the John Fetterman campaign for comment, but has yet to get a response. 

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