Shut Down Berks Campaign

“Las Madres de Berks” a 30 minute documentary by visual artist Michelle Angela Ortiz as a part of her “Familias Separatas” public art project. Find out more about her work on her website here.

“In 2019 the Berks County Detention Center (BCRC) will be entering its fifth year in operation as a immigrant family prison. That is five years of human rights abuses, due process violations, disregard of Pennsylvania and Federal law and the immoral and unjust treatment of immigrant families.

The Shut Down Berks Coalition will continue to fight until this inhumane prison is shut down and family detention is put to an end in Pennsylvania. 

Governor Tom Wolf, Lt. Governor John Fetterman and the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services have the power to issue an Emergency Removal Order (ERO) on the Berks County Detention Center, an action that would ensure the facility can no longer be used as a prison.

It is not only their moral obligation to keep families out of this prison but their legal responsibility.”

The Shut Down Berks Coalition

The Berks County Residential Center (BCRC) is a prison for immigrant children and parents located in Leesport, Pennsylvania, one of only three such prisons in the country.

BCRC is operated by Berks County under a contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). In the summer of 2014, ICE revived a discontinued policy of imprisoning immigrant families seeking refuge in the U.S., including infants as young as two weeks old.

Some families have been detained for nearly two years before being released or deported.

Children detained at BCRC have suffered medical neglect, psychological trauma, and persistent verbal abuse and harassment.

BCRC was licensed to care for children by the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services until early 2016, when the Department revoked the license. The county appealed that decision, and the matter remains stalled under administrative review at the PA DHS Bureau of Hearings and Appeals (BHA) nearly three years later.

Attorneys from Free Migration Project, NIP/NLG and Aldea have been involved in advocacy with PA DHS around Berks for the last four years or so. To learn more about our Litigation work on the Berks Campaign visit our Berks Licensing Lawsuit page.

Free Migration Project is also a core organizational member and fiscal sponsor of the Shut Down Berks Coalition, which is organizing a collaborative effort to close BCRC and end family detention in Pennsylvania.

The objective of the legal and organizing efforts is to permanently close BCRC. This would likely result in release of at least some, if not all, of the families currently detained there.

More importantly, it would end the practice of family detention in Pennsylvania, limiting the Trump family detention program to just one state in the country. Even if some of the currently-detained families were transferred to one of the Texas family detention centers, closing BCRC would prevent thousands of people from being detained there in the future. It would have the effect of weakening the national family detention regime, considering that ICE has frequently, in court filings and public communications, used the existence of the state license of BCRC to argue the national program is in compliance with the Flores Agreement, which regulates detention of immigrant minors. Removing that rationale would make the entire national program more vulnerable to legal challenge under Flores.

“Every day BCRC is allowed to operate, is another day of legitimizing the growing movement of hate, racism, and xenophobia plaguing our country.”

The Shut Down Berks Coalition

To find out more information on the Shut Down Berks Coalition, and how you can help, visit the Campaign to Shut Down Berks website here.

If you wish to make a tax-deductible donation to support the Coalition’s work, please click on the donate button below.

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