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Shut Down Berks is calling for the shutdown of Berks County Detention Center after it reopened as a migrant women's facility in January. Photo: Ben Hasty/MediaNews Group/Reading Eagle via Getty Images.

Berks County Detention Center reopens to more calls for closure

The facility now houses immigrant women separated from their families instead of children separated from their families.

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Last week, the Shut Down Berks Coalition and Aldea - The People’s Justice Center received confirmation that ICE had resumed immigrant imprisonment at the Berks County Residential Center sometime in January 2022. 

On Wednesday, Jan. 19, a group of 900 faith leaders and advocate groups including Church World Service, Detention Watch Network, and Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity, penned a letter to the Biden administration urging them to halt immigrant detention. 

“Detention centers represent abuse, trauma, and sometimes death. People are losing their lives to a detention system that simply does not need to exist. The Biden Administration must shut down immigration detention facilities, end detention contracts, and release people from detention immediately,” wrote Marcela Hernandez, Organizing Director of Detention Watch Network. 

For over 20 years, ICE has used the Berks facility to incarcerate immigrant families, including children as young as 14 days old. After years of community resistance, the Biden administration released all people detained at Berks on Feb. 26, 2021. 

Last September, despite strong opposition from community members and state lawmakers, ICE and the Berks County Commissioners reached an agreement to reopen and repurpose the facility to detain women as young as 18 years old. Today, the facility is detaining as many as 65 immigrant women and girls. 

Detaining women at this facility is dangerous and cruel and ICE has an established history of abuse and violence against women in its custody. In 2014, a Berks staff member was convicted for sexually assaulting a 19-year-old mother.

In a 2018 report, there were 1,224 instances of sexual assault in ICE detention. At other women’s immigrant detention centers, such as the T. Don Hutto Detention Center, there has been widespread sexual abuse, retaliation, medical neglect and nutritional deprivation.

“Just days after 900 faith leaders and advocate groups urge POTUS to Free Them All, they decide that Berks, the only ICE facility in the U.S. where a guard has been convicted for institutional rape of a young migrant, is an appropriate place to incarcerate women. OUTRAGEOUS,” wrote Aldea -PCJ on Twitter. 

The Shut Down Berks Coalition and Aldea - The Peoples’ Justice Center are calling on the Biden administration to immediately release these women and permanently close the Berks facility.
 

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