As usual, stellar reporting from Alexandra Villareal on what’s been going on inside the Berks County Residential Center since May.
But after 10 families who had stayed long-term at the facility were deported in May, men and their children replaced them, said Karen Hoffmann, a legal advocate for immigrants at Berks.
[One] woman, who was recently released from Berks after a months-long stay and asked to remain anonymous while her paperwork is processed, said: “All of the women were uncomfortable with this situation.”
When an influx of men arrived a few months ago, the county-run center placed them in dormitories adjacent to mothers and their kids, Hoffmann said and ICE has confirmed.
In May, while one of the mothers was resting in her room, a male resident reportedly walked in uninvited. Alarmed, the woman told her attorneys that she asked what he was doing there. He responded that he was searching for water, despite the cafeteria and snack areas being in other, distant parts of the center.
Some of the women at Berks have fled from domestic violence and sexual abuse in their countries, and suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder because of their experiences.
Read more about the inexcusably reckless situation ICE has created at Berks at NBC New York >>
I started drafting this before last week. Now it feels a little like “Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, …” But anyway:
- About two months ago, I started working as a legal advocate with the lawyers at the Berks Family Detention Center in Berks County, Pennsylvania. In 2014, the United States government began engaging in a policy of indefinitely detaining women and children in immigration detention. These are refugee women and children fleeing horrific gender, child and sexual violence in Central America. Berks is home to the oldest family detention center for refugee moms and their children in the nation. It is currently holding vulnerable children and mothers for over a year. This no-release policy for mothers and children fails to recognize the deleterious effects detention has on children and victims of trauma. As a result, many mothers and their young children suffer — not only extremely difficult legal cases, but also the physical, psychological, social and emotional effects of detention.
Here’s a recent Nation article on the situation at Berks: “Why Is The Obama Administration Keeping Toddlers Behind Bars?” And here’s a picture of a family that just #gotfree, as well as the 17 families in that story that are still detained, and have been for more than a year. We are going to try everything we can to get them released before Trump gets into office. If you’d like to follow and support our work, like us on Facebook at ALDEA – The People’s Justice Center.
- I have been working as a remote coordinator with Advocates Abroad, a network of volunteer attorneys from around the world assisting asylum seekers in the EU and Turkey. We welcome remote and on-the-ground assistance! More here: advocatesabroad.org.
- On October 21, I spoke on a panel on “Migrants and Refugees” at Penn Law as part of their Journal of International Law “Societies in Transition” symposium. I talked about how Berks violates international human rights law (not to mention the laws of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania!), as well as similarities between family detention in the US and the detention conditions in Greece. Hunger strikes, language access, access to counsel issues… the list goes on.
If there’s one good thing about this election, it seems like it’s inspiring activism among an unprecedented number of people. Increased support and visibility for human rights defenders can only be a good thing. Despite everything, I’m hopeful.