Friday July 13, 2018
The organizers, Shut Down Berks Coalition and the Shut Down Berks Interfaith Witness, want the facility closed.
WRITTEN BY ANTHONY OROZCO
BERN TOWNSHIP, PA. —
Hundreds of people are expected to rally Sunday outside of the Berks County Residential Center.
Members of the Shut Down Berks Coalition and the Shut Down Berks Interfaith Witness, a collection of religious and immigrant advocacy groups that want to see the facility closed, are hosting the vigil.
“Given the huge outcry against the Trump administration's plan to expand family detention, the vigil is expected to have several hundred attendees,” Sundrop Carter, Pennsylvania Immigration and Citizenship Coalition executive director, said in a press release.
The event, slated to start at 3:30 p.m. in front of the center on County Welfare Road in Bern Township, is being widely advertised through social media.
A Facebook event page titled “Vigilia/Vigil to Shut Down Berks County Family Detention Center” is garnering attention from local activists as well as others.
By Thursday afternoon the event had nearly 140 people listed as going and 870 people interested, according to the event page.
“Pennsylvania is one of two states in the nation that hosts a prison for immigrant children, known as the Berks County Detention Center, the others being Texas,” the page says.
“Families have reported verbal abuse, workers' rights abuses, medical neglect and in its first year of operation a mother was raped in front of other families,” the page says, referring to the 2016 conviction of former residential center employee Daniel W. Sharkey for institutional sexual assault of a 19-year-old detained mother.
The coalition has called on Gov. Tom Wolf to close the center.
The state Department of Human Services in February 2016 declined to renew the center's license to house children and moved to revoke it, saying the license was not being used as it was intended.
The center was permitted to operate while it appealed the action. An administrative law judge said in April 2017 that the agency lacked grounds to revoke the license. The state chose to review that decision as the center continues to operate.
“We need a Governor who goes beyond words, someone who takes action for the immigrant community. If he wants to count on the progressive vote, then he needs to act by issuing an emergency removal order on the Berks County Family Detention Center NOW,” the page says.
Wolf's office said last month that the situation at the center doesn't warrant such an order.
Berks County Commissioner Kevin S. Barnhardt said Thursday that people are welcome to express their opposition to family detention but that they should contact or lobby the proper officials.
“Folks have a constitutional right to peaceably assemble,” Barnhardt said Thursday via email. “If they want to advocate for a change in federal immigration laws they should protest in Washington, D.C.”
Vigil planned at Berks County Residential Center