Photo: Erik McGregor/Getty Images
Photo: Erik McGregor/Getty Images

York County Prison ends ICE contract as momentum builds for PA immigrant rights groups

Community-led activism has led to the shutdown of Berks County Detention Center, and proposed migrant centers from VisionQuest and Devereux.


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After three decades of detaining migrants for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the for-profit York County Prison will end its private contract with the agency on Aug. 12, 2021.

The prison is responsible for the largest ICE footprint in the state of Pennsylvania, and advocates have repeatedly criticized the facility as one that routinely violates the rights of its detainees.

Juntos, a local community-led immigrant rights organization, recently released a report highlighting the abusive conditions at York County Prison.

The report detailed findings from interviews conducted in April 2019, when Juntos leaders paid a visit to the facility alongside the Advancement Project, Asian Americans United, Casa San Jose, and VietLead.

The report demonstrated the deplorable conditions the detainees were forced to live in, many of which are common across all detention centers in the country. Since 2019, conditions at the center have not improved, and a recent outbreak of COVID-19 serves as a continued example of neglect and abuse at the hands of county officials.

The migrants interviewed by the advocacy groups spoke of their living conditions, neglect and mistreatment.

Fifty percent of the participants talked about not having any access to hot water, while also describing the gross nature of the water. They said the smell was similar to that of sewage and it caused allergic skin reactions.

Four of the 13 migrants interviewed mentioned write-ups from a guard. The reasons for receiving a write-up included “conspiring,” which is defined as gathering in groups of four or more, assisting another detainee with a broken foot, saving food, and requesting more feminine hygiene products (which are distributed four times per week.)

Six detainees described medical issues and neglect. Half of the respondents said that they waited multiple days before receiving medical attention, and at least two medical issues were allegedly caused by the facility itself.

"Everyone who responded noted they waited a minimum of three days to have their medical needs addressed, and one interviewee waited two and a half months and needed a call from his lawyer to be seen by medical staff at York," the report said.

Four detainees discussed medical issues. Three out of these four said the medical attention they did receive was inadequate, given the scope of and severity of their condition. One detainee, who is living with HIV, said they received no treatment at all for the disease.

Juntos and other community leaders view the projected end of York County’s detention contract as a meaningful step towards minimizing ICE’s footprint in the Keystone State.

Throughout the years, community organizing has resulted in successful shut down campaigns in regards to Berks County Detention Center and proposed projects by VisionQuest, and Devereux.

Advocates are certainly celebrating this small win, but remain vigilant about transfers of York detainees to other facilities.

On Tuesday, June 29, ICE transferred 30 detainees from Essex County Correctional, an action that advocates describe as essentially ‘disappearing’ individuals from their families and surrounding communities.

Recently, a coalition of grassroots community organizations and legal service providers, organized by Juntos, met to mobilize around the shutdown of York as a detention center.

With news of the contract cancellation, the coalition plans to push forward to make sure all detainees are released, and not simply transferred to another center that may be the same or worse.

“While we acknowledge the projected end of York’s contract with ICE as a meaningful step towards ending detention in our state once and for all — we will continue building the people power necessary to ensure all those detained at York and across the country are free,” said Erika Guadalupe Nuñez, Executive Director of Juntos.

“The end of the ICE contract at York is an important victory for our movements — especially as it is one of the largest detention centers in the country in terms of beds. From sea to sea, we are seeing local communities say: ‘enough,’” said Nancy Nguyen, Executive Director of VietLead. 



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