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Shut Down Berks Artwork. Photo: The Action Network
Shut Down Berks Artwork. Photo: The Action Network

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.

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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.

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. 

“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.

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. 

The letter cited specific cruelties that were documented in the T. Don Hutto Detention Center in Texas, including sexual abuse, retaliation, medical neglect and nutritional deficiency. 

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. 

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. 

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. 

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