Families Are Free, But the Fight to Shut Down Berks Is Not Over

 1 March 2021 Shut Down Berks Coalition


On the morning of Friday February 26th, the Shut Down Berks Coalition was delighted to learn that all families being held at the Berks County Detention Center were being released to their relatives and loved ones. It is the first time in many years that this family prison - that has stained the values of Pennsylvania - has sat empty. The decision by ICE to release families is the direct result of the persistence of grassroots organizing, starting with the efforts of detained families themselves, and supported by immigrant-led organizations, legal organizations, and other community members continually applying pressure for the release of families and closing of the prison.


As we celebrate that these families were released, we also remain on high alert. We know all too well that ICE operates without accountability and without oversight. As much as we hope this is a step in the right direction, we are acutely aware that at any point more families can be brought to this prison and that the same cycle of abuse would repeat itself. Until this prison is permanently shut down and until ICE and the Department of Homeland Security stops using this facility, the fight is not over.


DHS, ICE, and CBP operate an immigration system that abuses and harms immigrant communities. They have violated the rights of so many, ripping children from their parents’ arms, only to put them in prisons where they were often sexually abused and even “lost.” These institutions have immorally sent other children and whole families, especially Black families, on death flights back to the violence they fled, knowing full well what would be their fate. No one is ever safe in their custody.


Meanwhile, the Berks County community has made their voices heard. They want and deserve real human services that support and care for, not criminalize, people. This facility should not sit and remain vacant; instead, it should be repurposed for community programming that will improve the lives of those who call the county or the state their home. Immediate re-purposing of the center should move forward democratically in collaboration with community members. It is unacceptable that the Berks County Commissioners have submitted a white paper proposal to ICE regarding the future of the facility, and it is completely undemocratic that they refuse transparency and accountability with their constituents as to what they are proposing.


We will continue to demand that Governor Tom Wolf, Lt. Governor John Fetterman and secretary Teresa Miller do their job and ensure that this facility never houses another family.


Regardless of what happens in the coming days and weeks for the Berks County Detention Center, we already know that the Biden administration is opening new detention sites and continuing family detention in Texas under the guise of "reception centers." In response, we stand unequivocally united with the detained families, immigrant communities, and our colleagues at the Karnes and Dilley Detention Centers that are still fighting to close these centers. We will not stop fighting until we end family detention everywhere.


President Biden, Vice President Harris, and Secretary Mayorkas must immediately end family detention.


“For me, I’d like to send a message that no child should be detained. No child should be detained because they do not owe anything. No parent because it is unjust. I saw how my son suffered there and how I suffered next to him. To me the message I’d like to send is to close that center. No more children should be detained, no more parents should be detained. Because no one knows the pain, no one lives that pain more than we have. I was in that center with my son for two years, only I know the pain and suffering that is living in that center. The people who have the right and power to close that center, should close it so there are no more children detained.” - Delmy, mother detained for two years with her son


#EndFamilyDetention #ShutDownBerks #ShutDownKarnes #ShutDownDilley: