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Protesters outside of Etowah County Jail in Alabama. Photo: Fernando Lopez
Protesters outside of Etowah County Jail in Alabama. Photo: Fernando Lopez

Shut Down Berks joins the Detention Watch Network for the “First Ten to Communities Not Cages” effort to shut down migrant detention centers

The “First Ten” effort is the latest in the Detention Watch Network’s Communities Not Cages campaign.

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President Biden has made several big promises concerning immigration, including an end to deportations and the use of private facilities to detain undocumented migrants. 

But so far, the Biden-Harris administration has also deported hundreds of people, and on Monday, Feb. 22, they reopened two detention centers to house migrant teenagers. 

In response, The Shut Down Berks Coalition is teaming up with Detention Watch Network (DWN) and other partners, to demand that Biden shut down 10 different detention facilities across the country that each have an atrocious history of abuse. 

The organizations launched the “First Ten to Communities Not Cages” campaign on Thursday, Feb. 25, to provide a roadmap for the Biden administration on where to start. 

“First Ten” is the most recent phase of DWN’s national Communities Not Cages campaign to close 10 ICE detention centers, end the expansion and construction of new facilities, and ultimately eradicate the detention system altogether. 

The Adelanto Detention Facility, located in San Bernardino County, California, has a long list of human rights abuses, including inadequate health care, sexual assault and the use of solitary confinement. 

Between 2010 and 2016, Adelanto was in the top five facilities with the most complaints to ICE’s reporting line for sexual and physical abuse. 

The severity of the conditions at Adelanto cannot be overstated. 

In 2017, three people died within three months, including Osmar Epifanio Gonzales-Gabda, Sergio Alonso Lopez, and Vicente Cáceres Madariaga

There have also been at least seven attempted suicides at the facility, and most recently, in a failed attempt to respond to the coronavirus pandemic, a toxic chemical disinfectant led people to develop bloody noses, burning eyes and a persistent cough. 

The Berks County Family Residential Center in Pennsylvania is one of three family detention centers in the U.S. Family detention centers have a well-documented history of abuse and negligence, such as inadequate medical and mental health care and inappropriate disciplinary tactics used against children, including threats of family separation. 

In August 2016, a group of mothers began a hunger strike in protest of their families’ prolonged detention and mistreatment at the Berks center. They also penned a letter to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) explaining their reasoning. 

“We left our homes in Central America to escape corruption, threats and violence. We thought this country would help us, but now we are locked up with our children in a place where we feel threatened, including by some of the medical personnel, leaving us with no one to trust,” they wrote. 

The other eight facilities being targeted are the following: South Texas Family Residential Center, Farmville Detention Center in Virginia, T. Don Hutto Residential Facility in Texas, Etowah County Jail in Alabama, Irwin County Detention Center in Georgia, Mesa Verde Detention Center in California, Karnes County Family Residential Center in Texas and Otero County Processing Center in New Mexico. 

The United States operates the world’s largest immigration detention system with a network of more than 200 centers across the country. DWN members have been organizing for years to bring attention to the abuses inside these centers and calling for the shutdown of individual facilities and complete abolition of the inherently inhumane detention system.

In 2018, communities collaborated with DWN to form the Communities Not Cages campaign to amplify these demands. They’ve had many small victories in halting construction of new facilities, but under the Trump administration, the system continued to grow, with over 50,000 people detained at its height in the summer of 2019. 

As Biden continues to unravel and undo four years of racist immigration policies, the Shut Down Berks Coalition and DWN want to make clear that the problems run deeper than Trump’s executive orders. 

The policies are a preservation of an unjust framework that was created long before Trump took office. 

The “First Ten” campaign demands not only the closing of these ten abusive detention centers, but a decisive and bold action to end immigration detention once and for all. 

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