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Berks County Family Detention Center. Photo: AP
Berks County Family Detention Center. Photo: AP

Philly activists protest rushed deportations of families at ICE’s Berks County detention center

The Department of Homeland Security continues to be weaponized against immigrants under Trump’s administration.

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Twenty-eight migrant children and their parents are now facing deportation after their parents refused to be separated in detention, then lost an appeal in federal court for the right to claim asylum in the U.S.

Over the summer, ICE gave the choice between keeping their children with them in detention or releasing their children from detention without them, citing COVID-19 risks — continuing its history of family separation. 

All parents favored remaining in detention with their children, even as the time in custody for many surpassed 400 days, reports, NBC

On Nov. 22, their “stay of deportation,” which allows families to stay in the U.S. expired. According to court documents, now families are asking that they not be deported until their asylum claims have been heard. 

Democratic Sens. Bob Casey and Corey Booker wrote to Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf on Friday — whose appointment was recently ruled illegal — urging him not to deport the families currently held at facilities in Pennsylvania and Texas.

In Pennsylvania, ICE’s Berks County Family Detention Center recently saw intense pushback by Philadelphia activists, leaders, and immigrants-rights organizations. 

On Nov. 25, demonstrations led by the Shut Down Berks Coalition outside of Philadelphia’s ICE headquarters and the actual detention center, pushed against the rushed deportations of families that would only return them to the violence they fled, and will likely face death upon return.

“All during a global pandemic that is on the rise, against CDC recommendations. Ice must stop rushing to deport these families, which is illegal and immoral. Families must be free and safe, and ICE has the discretion to release these families to relatives or sponsors,” wrote members of Shut Down Berks in a press release. 

The organization invited many Philadelphia-area leaders, including City Councilwoman Kendra Brooks, who drew attention to two Haitian families incarcerated at the Berks facility. 

“Two Haitian families with young children who have been incarcerated by ICE for over 8 months at the Berks family prison are now in imminent danger of being deported as early as this coming Sunday, November 22,” Brooks wrote on Twitter.

Shut Down Berks wrote the two families faced at the facility facing deportation are part of a larger group of Black and Brown families in Texas and Pennsylvania facing deportation after their asylum cases were denied. 

In a statement, ICE said that it "continues to safely conduct the release, transfer, and removal of families housed at the Berks Family Residential Center."

On Nov. 23, President-elect Joe Biden announced his nominee for DHS secretary, Alejandro Mayorkas who could make history as the first Latino and immigrant to serve in the position. 

They are expected to employ ICE in a less aggressive way towards immigration, but today’s calls for action — ranging from ICE abolishment to reunification — made it clear that Mayorkas will have much to consider from day one. 

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