Juntos Youth Leaders React to Berks County Family Detention Center

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From right to left; Gabriela Jimenez, Karen Guerrero, Kemberly Martinez
From right to left; Gabriela Jimenez, Karen Guerrero, Kemberli Calixto 

Family Detention and Deportation is Wrong

All Detention and Deportation is Wrong

Twenty minutes outside of Reading, Pennsylvania lies Berks Family Residential Center. Inside the “Residential Center” women and children are indefinitely detained while they are in deportation proceedings, proceedings that can last not just months but years. What is occurring in the Berks Center is plain and simple a detention camp for undocumented immigrant families.

Juntos has long fought for the end of all detention and deportation of our community and the Berks detention camp highlights the depths of abuse that is currently being inflicted on the undocumented community. Within the last year alone a young woman was raped by a security guard in front of children and she and the witnesses continued to be detained for four months after the facility learned about the assault. ICE’s only response to sexual assault, other than firing the guard, was implementing a stringent dress code for the detained women. Recently, when a small child began to vomit blood ICE and Berks detention staff refused medical care until the fourth day. And through it all ICE has refused nearly all requests for release of detainees suffering from severe mental illnesses and those who have been on watch for self-harm.

It is clear that the Berks detention camp, like all detention camps across the country holding undocumented immigrants, must be closed. On May 12th, 2015 ICE announced enhanced oversight over these facilities but oversight is not the answer. We as an organization will not stop until every last facility is closed.

We echo the sentiments written by The New York Times editorial board that, Detention is intended to help enforce the law, but, in practice, the system breeds cruelty and harm, and squanders taxpayer money. It denies its victims due process of law, punishing them far beyond the scale of any offense. It shatters families and traumatizes children. As a system of mass incarceration — particularly of women and children fleeing persecution in Central America — it is immoral.”

The imprisonment of children is inhumane and in Pennsylvania is illegal. Any policy that does not release these families, honors their rights to be together and shuts down these centers immediately would be equally cruel and unusual. We must continue to fight for the Human Rights of all in our community. It is clear that the Berks detention camp, as well as all detention camps, must close immediately.

On May 2nd 2015, Juntos, along with other community organizations across southeast Pennsylvania, participated in an action demanding the closing of the Berks. Below are reactions from some of our youth leaders who were present that day.


Kemberli Calixto, age 16: “When I went to Berks Detention Center, honestly I felt scared, excited, but also proud to take part in this protest. I felt proud because I knew I was taking part in a good cause which will help our families be free. I knew that although I would like to do more or give more, it was hard. Yet I knew that this small action would make a change. I have always wanted to be part of a change in this world and make a difference in this messed up place.

Yes it is a messed up place. Why is there discrimination, racism, authority abuse, violence, etc., in this place where we are to be “united” and have “liberty?” Why can’t we just accept one another, I really hate to see when small kids at a young age are racist without knowing. So being part of this makes me proud since I want to be part of a difference and I want to see change too. It’s just not right that small kids have to live in a place where they are only let outside for an hour, then having to go back inside, surrounded by four dark wall and not able to go to the park, run around like kids their age.

So this should change because a difference needs to made and soon. Honestly, I felt excited since I knew that every voice counts, that my action or voice can make a difference. However, I also felt scared because I knew that many things could happen in a protest but the good thing was that everything went well. I also felt sad because when I saw the kids and women’s outside, I just wanted to run towards them, hug them and tell them everything was going to be okay. I wanted to tell them that we won’t give up on them and that a change will come and it will be soon. I know how it feels to feel like you have no one or that the world is done but please help us to bring back the smiles to these innocent kids that only want to be someone in this world. Please help us to give them the education and rights they deserve because no kid should be prevented from achieving in life. I just felt that it is true that “Juntos” or together anything is possible. And like how we say here at JUNTOS, #NOT1MORE and SI SE PUEDE. So yes this was my first protest but it won’t be my last. I will take part in this cause until all Latinos are accepted and not called “illegal.”

Gabriela Jiménez, age… “The Berks family detention center protest was my first protest. I was so excited and nervous. I was excited because it was a chance for me to be part of a change. The more people they see at the protest, the more the families feel supported. I was nervous because I am undocumented and I was afraid they would arrest me, but that didn’t happen because I was safe with the organizers. I really enjoyed the protest, I really want there to be a change in this world where there would be peace, no families getting separated, where people could walk and be wherever they want to be without having to get caught by ICE. They only came to the U.S for a better future for their kids and themselves. I have hope that someday there will be a change, that there will be peace because everybody is not so different really, we are all humans with dreams. The only difference in people are their physical traits and that doesn’t hurt anybody, what hurts is to take people’s chances to get to their dreams because of it. I’m glad I had a chance to be part of a protest to help families because I wouldn’t be happy if my family got separated for a long time, they should be out and enjoying their life. JUNTOS, which means “everybody together” is the greatest power of all. People should always take a chance in protesting what is wrong, because you never know, it may help help families get out of jail.”

Karen Guerrero, 16 años  “Que es un centro de detención? Un centro de Detención es un lugar donde niños, padres y madres están detenidos figuradamente. Se puede decir que están encarceladas. Sin poder salir. Ahora ponte en los zapatos de estas madres desesperadas que piden a gritos poder salir y disfrutar los momentos más pequeños y a la vez más grandes con sus hijos. Como padres es muy importante ver a sus hijos graduarse, por eso es que estas personas dejan todo lo que conocen atrás. Imagínate a una madre soltera con dos hijos, uno de 4 y el otro de 5. Esta madre sufrió abusos en su casa desde pequeña, no sabe leer porque en su tierra natal no tuvo los recursos necesarios para estudiar. Ella trabaja muy duro pero sabe que en su país sus dos hijitos no tendrán oportunidad de salir adelante. Entonces por un año, ella ahora su dinero para venir a los Estados Unidos. Ella quiere lo mejor para sus hijitos. Tiene que asegurarse que Inmigración no los detenga si no de que sirve todo su esfuerzo. Ella corre esquivando las balas que la migra le tira y trata de proteger a sus niños.

Pero es mucho cansancio para los niños y están asustados. Los dos niños se ponen a llorar. Uno de ellos se cae y de repente la migra los tiene en sus garras. Se la llevan a un lugar obscuro, a un centro de detencion. Al principio siente que su mundo se cae pero ella toma esperanza cuando le dicen que tiene que estar detenida tres meses con sus hijos para decirle sí se puede quedar o no en el país. En el transcurso del tiempo, esta mujer y sus criaturitas sufren problemas psicológicos y físicos. Aun así no pierde la esperanza y día con día ella se pone más ansiosa. Ella le pido a gritos a Dios que se pueda quedar en este país para poderle dar un buen futuro a sus hijos. Pasaron seis meses y aun no le dicen nada. No es justo que estos niños sufran y vean a su madre golpeada o lastimada. Este país promete  que aquí la gente es libre y la ley justa. Pero esas son mil mentiras. La gente en los centros de detenciones no son libres. Libertad es poder ir a comer un helado o hacer las simples cosas así.

Yo siendo una joven de 16 años no debería de tener miedo por mi familia, por mi comunidad, ni por mi!! Honestamente ya estoy cansada de esta situación. Cuando puse un pie en ese centro de detención, me sentí aprisionada, me sentí triste de no poder entrar y sacar a esos niños. Si yo estuviera en una situación similar y mis hermanos estuvieran ahí, me moriría y no sabría que hacer. Mi familia es tan importante para mí. Mirar a esas mujeres luchadoras y fuertes me hicieron sentir afortunada de conocerlas. Yo solo quería llorar por lo que estaba viendo, no era justo, era triste. Aun así me limpie las lágrimas y me arme de valor porque les quería dar esperanza de que juntos se puede hacer lo imposible. Lo vuelvo a repetir hay que hacer un cambio en el sistema. No tener papeles no es lo único que nos define, ni dice quien somos. Los papeles no nos hacen mejor, ni peor que nadie. Esta protesta me hizo poner los pies sobre la tierra y ver la realidad de las cosas. La injusticia siempre ha estado ahí bajo de nuestras narices. Me hizo dar cuenta que hay persona sufriendo por el gobierno corrupto y que venden a personas inocentes por un par de monedas. NO ES JUSTO y debemos parar esto. Si no para entonces dónde está la humanidad en este mundo? Luchemos por estas personas que serán el futuro de este mundo donde quizás por fin haya paz, comprensión, amor y libertad. Hay que decir NO a la injusticia!”



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