No on Immigrant Prison | OP-ED
Six Months After Families Were Released, Commissioners Want to Incarcerate Immigrant Women at Berks County Detention Center.
MORE IN THIS SECTION
After months of refusing to make public the details of negotiations with ICE to county residents, the County Commissioners announced yesterday that they plan to vote on converting the facility into a prison for immigrant women tomorrow, Thursday, August 19th, 2021. Berks community members stand firm in their demands for the commissioners to vote “no” to the use of the facility as an immigrant prison, and instead convert the facility to deliver health and human services to those who call Berks County their home.
In late February of this year, all families detained at the Berks County Family Prison were released to their relatives or sponsors. Simultaneously as families were being released, the Berks County Commissioners-- specifically Christian Leinbach and Michael Rivera-- began communications with ICE to convert the use of the facility into an immigrant women’s prison.
“As residents of Berks County, we are outraged by the conduct of our Commissioners...”, said Juana Mora, an organizer with Make the Road Pennsylvania and a Reading community member. “...They are making decisions that negatively affect our community, by bringing a prison for immigrant women to our backyard. This prison will only impoverish our community and will take away our peace. As a woman, I cannot allow immigrant women who come escaping from violence and poverty and who come here to improve their quality of life, to be incarcerated in my backyard.”
On Thursday, August 19th at 10:30am, Berks community members will make their voices heard in front of the Berks County Courthouse, as well as virtually through Zoom. Elected Pennsylvania leaders will be joining the rally virtually, they do so after delivering a letter to President Biden to end the ICE contract in Berks County. They will collectively demand that County Commissioners not bring yet another iteration of immigrant incarceration to their community. Berks County residents are witness to the damage that these types of facilities bring to their county, this one in particular being the longest-running family prison in the U.S. which has imprisoned families, including very young children, for up to 21 months.
Chris Ellis, a Berks County resident and Berks Stands Up leader said, “Immigrant women fleeing violence should be able to do so without being detained behind a fence in a ‘golden cage’. We have already seen family detention here and now they are attempting a new version [of immigrant incarceration] for our community, it must end. Our county needs this facility to become a true community resource and not a larger prison”.
The Shut Down Berks Coalition unequivocally stands against new plans to detain, process, incarcerate, or subject immigrant women or any other people to federal actions within the facility. We support the Berks County community in their demand for the County Commissioners to vote “no” on the conversion plan. We know that in other detention centers for women, such as the T. Don Hutto Detention Center (Hutto) -which was once a family detention center- there has been pervasive sexual abuse, retaliation, medical neglect, and nutritional deprivation. Women in Hutto have been subjected to further inhumane treatment, isolation and separation from family and community. Following the exposure of the atrocious abuses that happened against families there, it was transitioned into a detention center for immigrant women. This did not stop abuse.
Adriana Zambrano, Berks County resident and Programs Coordinator at Aldea - The People’s Justice Center said, “Women are a particularly vulnerable population in detention. Immigrant women have endured some of the most extreme forms of violence and persecution, and come to this country seeking help and protection - not incarceration. We have seen women heads-of-families languish at Berks for months and years, without adequate medical and psychological care, spiral into self harm and deep bouts of depression and hopelessness. Placing women in custody exposes them to institutional violence such as sexual assault --which has indeed happened at this facility. Detention hinders the complex legal process of asylum. Berks [County] can and should do better. We should welcome and protect immigrant women, instead of jailing them for profit.”
Liliana, a leader with local immigrant rights organization CASA said, “No human should be treated the way detention centers treat people, in [detention] life has no value, respect or meaning! The kids are not treated for illness. There, we were humiliated to the point of getting us confused and pressured to respond to their questions at their convenience. No one should be suffering just because we are looking for a better future for our families!”
Every human being, regardless of color, race, and immigration status, deserves respect, dignity and equality. All detained refugee families and persons deserve freedom. This is why we are standing strong in our demand for Berks County Commissioners Leinbach and Rivera to vote “no” on ICE’s plan to convert the use of the facility into an immigrant women’s prison.
LEAVE A COMMENT:
Join the discussion! Leave a comment.