HIAS Pennsylvania Supports End to Berks County Detention Center

Berks County uses a residential detention center with about 72 beds to detain families who arrive in the U.S. seeking asylum and protection from violence and conflict at home. Many families are Central American single mothers with their young children and infants.  The facility is one of three in the U.S.; the other two are in Dilley and Karnes Texas.   In July 2015, Judge Dolly Gee of the Federal District Court of Central California, Western Division ruled that children should not be detained and that families should be released as quickly as possible while their cases are  considered by Immigration Judges. 

HIAS PA staff members have worked with pro bono attorneys to provide representation to the families in the Berks facility, where even ten-day-old infants are detained.  Children as young as five years old were held in the facility for up to a year. The facility is licensed solely as a residential center for juveniles who have had problems with the law, and most of its current inhabitants do not come even close to meeting this criterion. A coalition of local attorneys and advocates have been pressing Governor Wolf and Secretary Dallas to revoke the facility’s license because none of the children are delinquents. 

HIAS PA supports the decision by Pennsylvania Health and Human Services Secretary Dallas, announced the week of October 21st, not to renew the license of the Berks County facility.  In revoking the license, Secretary Dallas stated,

"Berks County Residential Center now serves only refugee immigrant families. The state will take appropriate action and does not intend to renew [the license] when it expires on Feb. 21, 2016.

Under current procedure, released parents must all make their claims for asylum before a U.S. Immigration Judge. Due to a backlog of cases and understaffed Immigration Courts, cases can take 6 months to one year to be scheduled. HIAS PA urges Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)  officials to develop safe release plans for families and to release them on humanitarian parole under Section 212 (d)(5) of the Immigration and Nationality Act so that they can work and support themselves and their young families in the U.S. while their case is pending.  Failure to do so will create another humanitarian crisis, as families and children will be released from detention without basic necessities such as housing, health care and food security. 

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