This Sunday, July 15th, protesters will gather outside Berks County Residential Center, a detention center for immigrant children and parents located in Leesport, PA. Berks is one of only three locations in America designed to hold immigrant families in detention. Families have been held in this facility for up to a year before their cases are concluded. At that time, the families are either released and granted entry to America or deported back to their country of origin.
Much of the debate over how America addresses the issue of immigrant families relates back to a 1997 ruling known as the Flores settlement. CNN describes the settlement as follows:
The 1997 Flores settlement requires the government to release children from immigration detention without unnecessary delay to their parents, other adult relatives or licensed programs… It also requires immigration officials to give detained minors a certain quality of life, including things such as food, drinking water, medical assistance in emergencies, toilets, sinks, temperature control, supervision and as much separation from unrelated adults as possible.
CNN’s full report on the Flores settlement can be found here: https://www.cnn.com/2018/07/10/politics/flores-settlement-history/index.html
In 2015, US District Judge Dolly Gees made a ruling that stated that the Flores settlement applies to both unaccompanied minors and children who cross the border with family. Family detention centers were stated at that time to be in direct violation of the Flores settlement. In January of 2016, the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services revoked Berks County Residential Center’s license. It has been operating without a license ever since. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/jan/29/immigration-family-detention-center-pennsylvania-shut-down-license-revoked
The Shut Down Berks Coalition has been working for years to close this facility. With the country’s recent focus on immigration due to the Trump Administration’s policies, however, the movement has been receiving greatly increased attention. They hope to mobilize this increased support into a day of action at the site of the detention center.
Each month, the Shut Down Berks Coalition partners with a different faith-based group to lead a vigil outside the Berks Detention Facility. This month, the vigil will be led by the Friends’ CALN Quarterly Meeting, on Sunday, July 15th, at 3:30pm. The Coalition hopes that these vigils will raise awareness and put pressure on the Pennsylvania government to take action towards closing the facility. They described their goals to Child’s World America staff as follows:
“We call upon Governor Wolf and the Pennsylvania Department of Health and Human Services (PA DHS) to exercise their power and obligation to issue an Emergency Removal Order (ERO) to immediately cease the operation of the Berks County Residential Center. Only in doing so can Governor Wolf end the mass incarceration of families and children that is both unjust and unlawful, as it violates both state and federal law.”
In a phone interview with Child’s World America staff, Leonard Olsen, a member of the Shut Down Berks Coalition, described the importance of the movement and of the vigils. “This is a local issue, where the county of Berks and the state of Pennsylvania are violating state laws and refusing to take action to end the unjust detention of migrant and refugee families in Pennsylvania, including many young children. By coming to the vigil, we raise our voices and put pressure on the governor to take action to close the facility, which he is legally able and obliged to do. On the national level, closing the Berks facility would be a significant national victory in fighting back against family detention, family separation, and deportation.”
The Facebook event for the vigil is called Vigilia/Vigil To Shut Down Berks County Family Detention Center: https://www.facebook.com/events/1886641754719996/
It is hosted by the Facebook groups Shut Down Berks Interfaith Witness and Shut Down Berks Coalition:
More information about the Shut Down Berks movement can be found here: