The Berks Family Detention Center, known as the Berks County Residential Center (BCRC), is a prison for immigrant families, where children as young as two-weeks-old have been incarcerated, along with their parents. On January 27, 2016, after months of community pressure and evidence of human rights abuses at BCRC, including a rape by a guard, labor abuses, and medical neglect of the families and children, the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services (PA DHS) issued a notice that it would not renew the license for BCRC, effectively ending family detention in Pennsylvania.
The license will expire on February 21, 2016 and as of Monday, February 22, BCRC will not only be operating without a license and in direct violation of state law but will also be operating in violation of federal law, following two federal court rulings against the incarceration of families and ordering for their immediate release.
Given the record of inhumane conditions and that operation of BCRC is against state and federal law, we demand that BCRC be immediately shut down. PA DHS should order an Emergency Removal of families while the appeal is in process, the County Commissioners should drop their appeal and stop participating in this painful and inhumane practice, and ICE should end their policy of family detention and be held accountable for their violation of Federal law.
To: Ted Dallas
Order an Emergency Removal of families detained at Berks Detention Facility immediately.
[expand title=”Read the full letter here”]
Dear Theodore Dallas
Pennsylvania Secretary of the Department of Human Services;
I am writing today in regards to your January 27th decision to revoke the license of the Berks County Residential Center. We applaud your action to take the state of Pennsylvania one step closer to ending family detention. Although the removal of the license was vital victory to close the facility the county plans to continue the detention of families. Every day that these children and parents continue to be imprisoned, they are not only having their rights violated but they are further traumatized. That is why we are calling on your department to order an Emergency Removal of families while Berks County litigates an appeal process.
The BCRC has shown “gross incompetence, negligence, misconduct in operating the facility or agency, or mistreatment or abuse of clients, likely to constitute an immediate and serious danger to the life or health of the clients.” As you already know the incarceration of families is not only immoral but the American Academy of Pediatrics has stated that the detainment of children in the BCRC “puts them at greater risk for physical and mental health problems and unnecessarily exposes [them] to additional psychological trauma.” In addition to the illegal detention of children, in the last year alone Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Berks staff refused medical care for a child who vomited blood for four days. Further, in the first year BCRC refused nearly all requests for the release of detainees suffering from severe mental illnesses and who have been on watch for self-harm, including children. BCRC staff also failed to provide proper care for several children who suffered from a fungus that appeared on their genitals after being detained and instructed mothers to treat their children’s fevers of less than 100 degrees with a glass of water.
The summer of 2014 a nineteen-year-old woman was the victim of institutional rape by a counselor at BCRC. The assault occurred in the presence of other incarcerated women and children. For four months after ICE and the center’s leadership learned of the assault, the young woman continued to be incarcerated with her three-year-old son and denied privileges. ICE’s only response to the sexual assault, other than firing the guard, was implementing a stringent dress code for the detained women. In addition to this incident of sexual assault, many families have reported verbal abuse from staff and neglect in regards to their physical and mental health. It is for all these examples of negligence, abuse and misconduct that we urge you to order an Emergency Removal of families, a power you have exercised in previous circumstances.
Take action today, Secretary Dallas, and issue an Emergency Removal Order of illegally detained families in the Berks County Residential Center immediately.
The Shut Down Berks Campaign is a grassroots coalition fighting to shut down the Berks County Detention Center immediately and end family detention. Members include Detention Watch Network, GALAEI, Juntos, #Not1More, Migrant Power Movement, PICC, UUPlan and We Belong Together.