PA Dept of Human Services Sends Letter Questioning Berks County Center’s License to Detain Children
Leesport, Pennsylvania (10/22/15)—Today, in a major blow to Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) practice of detaining children and families, and a remarkable victory for immigrants in Pennsylvania and across the country, the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services (PA DHS) issued a letter that is likely to lead to the shutdown of one of the nation’s only family immigrant detention centers.
The PA DHS letter issued an ultimatum to the Berks County Family Detention Center, which currently holds both children and adults, to either stop detaining families or lose its license in February 2016.
Immigrants and advocates working on this case in Pennsylvania celebrated the victory marked by the PA DHS letter, which was issued one day after MRPA members met with Secretary Dallas to urge the center’s closure. Over the past year, Make the Road Pennsylvania members and their allies from across the state have mounted protests demanding the site’s closure, held vigils, and met with prisoners. Meanwhile, local pro bono attorneys have worked tirelessly to free detained families. Immigrants and allies also highlighted the need to end family detention throughout the country.
Luis Vera, member of Make the Road Pennsylvania and an immigrant resident of Reading, said, “I am so happy that finally these children are so much closer to having their freedom. No one in the world should take away their right to grow and live freely. As a member of Make the Road Pennsylvania, I know that this fight has been worth it, especially because it’s for these children’s liberty.”
Carol Anne Donohoe, an attorney who spoke on behalf of the attorneys who have represented over 150 detained refugee mothers, fathers, and children at Berks County Family Detention Center, said: “We thank Secretary Dallas and the PA DHS for acknowledging that the facility has been operating outside the boundaries of its license. This represents a tremendous victory for all of the mothers, fathers, and children who sought refuge from violence under our asylum laws only to be subjected to the further trauma of family imprisonment.”
Over the past year, Make the Road Pennsylvania members and their allies from across the state have mounted protests demanding the site’s closure, held vigils, and met with prisoners. Meanwhile, local pro bono attorneys have worked tirelessly to free detained families. Immigrants and allies highlighted the need to end family detention throughout the country.
Adanjesus Marín, Make the Road Pennsylvania’s Director, said, “What Secretary Dallas’s letter makes clear is what Make the Road Pennsylvania members and community supporters have insisted on since the center was opened. Jailing families, infants, and children is contrary to the mission of the Department of Human Services. In light of Secretary Dallas’s letter, we call for the immediate release of all of the imprisoned families.”
Javier H. Valdés, Co-Executive Director of Make the Road New York, affirmed: “The closing of the Berks County Family Detention Center is a major step forward, and it now falls to the federal government to end the practice of incarcerating children and families. No child, anywhere, should be growing up in a jail cell.”
The practice of family detention has come under national scrutiny since the wave of unaccompanied children in 2014. Immigrants and advocates nationwide have denounced the practice of detaining young children in the same cells as adult strangers. In July, a federal judge ruled that two similar centers in Texas violated a longstanding court settlement known as Flores. The imminent Berks closure illustrates that ICE’s current practice of detaining children and families is untenable and must end.
Civic Engagement and Research Coordinator
MAKE THE ROAD NEW YORK
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