The DHS mission also states that the Department will “strengthen and preserve families while empowering them to make choices that lead to safety, stability and wellbeing.” Yet, within the last year families have been exposed not only to unlawful and unnecessary detention but abuse from staff. Last summer, a nineteen-year-old woman was the victim of institutional rape by a counselor at BCDC. The assault occurred in the presence of other incarcerated women and children. For four months after ICE and the center’s leadership learned of the assault, the young woman continued to be incarcerated with her three-year-old son and denied privileges. ICE’s only response to the sexual assault, other than firing the guard, was implementing a stringent dress code for the detained women. In addition to this incident of sexual assault, many families have reported verbal abuse from staff and neglect in regards to their physical and mental health.
The families’ demands for release found support in a federal court order issued in August, which mandated the release of all children and their parents from detention, absent a demonstrated flight or safety risk based on an individualized assessment. However, the hope raised by this decision was short-lived, as the government has unveiled plans to appeal the federal judge’s decision. In fact, the federal government plans to double the capacity of Berks and has increased detention rates of families crossing the Southern border. Families now face even faster turnover of their asylum applications, making it nearly impossible to obtain the necessary paperwork or find counsel. In addition, they face the injustice of being “cared for” by their prosecutor—an injustice that was recognized and addressed when the custody of unaccompanied children was transferred from the immigration enforcement authorities to the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement.
The federal government has chosen, as a matter of policy and political pressure, to incarcerate immigrant families. The federal Immigration and Nationality Act does not require that immigrants entering the United States be detained. Moreover, the vast majority of families have relatives living in the United States with whom they can reside. For the minority who come to this country without family ties, pilot programs by faith-based groups have successfully provided housing and other support in cooperation with federal authorities.
The continued operation of the Berks County Detention Center not only violates state regulations but also operates in violation of federal law. In recent months Federal Judge Gee ruled twice that the incarceration of families is in direct violation of the law and has ordered the immediate release of families currently incarcerated in ICE facilities. As the fight continues to close all Immigrant Detention Centers across the country, we call for the immediate closure of the Berks County Detention Center. PA DHS has publicly recognized that the center is in violation of the license but has yet to take action. This is why we call upon Ted Dallas, Secretary of the PA Department of Human Services, who has the power to revoke the license and release these families, to do so immediately.
If you have any questions about the Berks County Family Detention Center or this campaign you can contact Jasmine Rivera at [email protected] or 480-628-4032.