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Photo: Shut Down Berks Coalition Twitter
Shut Down Berks has gone to D.C. with its fight against the Berks County Residential Center. Photo: Twitter- Shut Down Berks Coalition 

PA Rep. Manny Guzman, Shut Down Berks go to D.C. in next phase of their fight against migrant detention

A letter signed by 50 elected officials across Pennsylvania was hand delivered to the president demanding an end to the ICE contract with the Berks County…

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On Wednesday, July 28, the immigrants rights organization Make the Road PA hand delivered a letter to President Joe Biden’s staff, urging him and Vice President Kamala Harris to terminate the ICE contract at Berks County Residential Center.

The letter, spearheaded by State Rep. Manny Guzman, and signed by more than 50 elected officials across the state of Pennsylvania, was delivered by Maegan Llerena, the director of Make the Road PA.

The center was emptied five months ago, but the signing officials warn that the battle for a permanent shut down is not over.

Berks county manages the facility and is reimbursed by the federal government. In return, ICE leases space and provides about $1 million in revenue annually to the county. 

Immigration advocates, lawyers and community members have been fighting for its closure for years, particularly Make the Road PA and the Shut Down Berks Coalition.

Despite evidence of sexual assault, medical negligence and inhumane living conditions, the detention center managed to stay open until February of 2021. 

Berks County commissioners secretly deliberated about the future of the center, and ultimately decided on transforming it into a detention center for women migrants. 

The officials, however, find no comfort or satisfaction in the plan. The intention of the years-long fight to free the detained families was not to transform the space into another jail. 

“We unequivocally stand against new plans to detain, process, incarcerate or subject immigrant women or any other people to federal actions within the facility," Rep. Guzman wrote.

Instead, he suggested that the center be repurposed into a house programming that would benefit the lives of those in the community. 

In the letter, elected leaders honed in on the fact that it’s been five months since the last group of previously detained families were released to their loved ones and sponsors, and that it’s time to end this “egregious” practice of family detention for good. 

“Incarcerating immigrants — whether they be families, children, or individual adults - is cruel, inhumane, abusive, unnecessary and immoral. It is a violation not only of American civil liberties but also of international human rights,” Guzman said. 

In April of 2021, Lorena, a mother who was detained in Berks County residential center for more than 700 days with her toddler son, joined the Shut Down Berks Coalition to share a personal message to Biden.

Lorena wrote about how devastating it was to not have freedom, and to always be in custody.

“It causes great harm to the families; I say this from personal experience. I was there for more than a year,” she wrote. 

Lorena wrote that she would also like to see the space converted into something other than a jail — a center that would do good for the community, and that the time to break the cycle of abuse, suffering and unnecessary detention is now.

“Because it is true that we came with trauma from our own country only to end up in another place with more trauma. My wish, with all my heart, is that the center be closed and that not one [more] family, not one [more] child, is there because it is difficult to be there,” Lorena wrote.

According to Llerena, President Biden agreed to read the letter and continue pushing Congress to pass legislation that would provide immigrants a clear pathway to citizenship.

“Now, we are asking President Biden to put action behind his words, by closing the Berks Detention Center and ending the contract with ICE, so this facility can finally benefit our community instead of harm it,” Llerena said in a Shut Down Berks press release.

 

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