Texas immigrant rights advocates support demonstration at Berks family detention center

December 19, 2016

After the release of nearly 500 mothers and children, advocates call on the Obama administration to end family detention immediately

(AUSTIN, Texas) — Today, the Shut Down Berks Coalition will hold a demonstration at the Pennsylvania State Capitol to demand that Governor Tom Wolf and Secretary Ted Dallas immediately shut the doors of the Berks family detention center and ensure the families imprisoned there don’t spend yet another Christmas incarcerated. Immigrant rights groups in Texas are echoing their call to close Berks and all end family detention.

“This nation, this state, that speaks of liberty and justice, will only speak hollow words until the Berks County Family Detention Center and all family detention centers are closed. During a time where the national dialogue includes talk of reviving internment camps and religious registries, now is the time for Secretary Dallas and Governor Wolf to take action,” said Sundrop Carter, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Immigration & Citizenship Coalition. “Every day BCRC is allowed to operate, is another day of legitimizing the growing movement of hate, racism, and xenophobia plaguing our country.”

The families held at BCRC have written multiple letters asking President Obama and Secretary Jeh Johnson to follow the law, end family detention, and release them and their children. The most recent statement signed by 17 mothers detained at Berks reads, “We are desperate because this will be the second Christmas that our children have to spend here. This is in addition to all the other special dates, such as the birthdays of our children and our own, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, etc, that we have had to spend in this jail, including the 4th of July on which this country celebrates FREEDOM….We ask you, 17 desperate mothers, to give the biggest gift to our children of being able to spend Christmas among family.”

The recent release of more than 460 mothers and children from family detention centers in Texas proves that it is possible for the administration to release families from detention. Processing asylum-seeking families through their court process is often cited by officials as the reason for family detention and the families who were part of the mass releases were at various stages of their immigration cases. Texas immigrant advocacy organizations called on the Obama Administration to end family detention immediately.

"The first weekend of December, RAICES served nearly 500 women and children released from detention who were grateful to be free but released in terrible medical and emotional condition after just days or weeks of detention,” said Amy Fischer, RAICES Policy Director. “We can only image how much worse it is for the families at Berks who have been detained for months or well over a year. All families deserve to be free!"

The practice of family detention defies a 9th Circuit court ruling, now being appealed by the government, which stated that children may not be held in secure, unlicensed facilities. After a decision by an Austin judge earlier this month, none of the facilities is operating with a childcare license. Advocates decry the particular impact that detention in these prison-like facilities has on children.

“Studies and reports have shown that detention is extremely harmful to the physical and mental health of children. They are vulnerable to trauma even if they are held for a short period of time,” said Sister Pat Connolly, Co-chair of the Interfaith Welcome Coalition. “It is particularly egregious that the Berks Center continues to operate in violation of the federal court order finalized in October 2015 that states that children may not be held in such facilities longer than 20 days.”

In the wake of the massive release of 460 mothers and children from Karnes and Dilley family detention centers to shelters in San Antonio, immigrant advocates across the country are calling on the Obama Administration to end the failed and inhumane policy of family detention.

“If ICE can suddenly release hundreds of women and children without warning to local shelters, then surely the Obama administration can release everyone from family detention in Pennsylvania and Texas before Christmas,” said Cristina Parker, immigration programs director at Grassroots Leadership. “Family detention is a national disgrace, and a blemish on Obama’s already-terrible record on deportations. Instead of handing the keys to these prisons to Donald Trump, Obama can instead end this now.”


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Grassroots Leadership is an Austin, Texas-based national organization that works to end prison profiteering and reduce reliance on criminalization and detention through direct action, organizing, research, and public education.


Cristina Parker, cparker@grassrootsleadership.org, 512-499-8111