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Opinion: It’s time to permanently close Berks County’s immigrant detention center

September 29, 2021 Category: FeaturedMediumPurpose


This guest column was written by Jasmine Rivera, director of civic engagement for Pennsylvania Voice, and co-coordinator of the Shut Down Berks Coalition.
Six years. For six years I have been fighting, along with Pennsylvanians from across the state, to shut down a prison for immigrant families, the Berks County Residential Center. Most of [those detained there] have come from Latin America, the Caribbean and Africa.

For six years I’ve been in utter disbelief that this is even a fight in the first place, that it’s not common sense to not incarcerate families.

In those six years I’ve seen two presidential elections and have played an active role in getting out the vote in those elections. I have done the population analysis using Census data to calculate first-hand how fast BIPOC communities, and within that Latinx communities, are growing.

I’ve seen the appeasement of Latinx voters from all candidates, many of whom like to talk about how they are the best option for voters, but hardly ever stop to listen.

There is a disconnect. Between what voters want and what politicians do. There is a disconnect between campaign promises and the follow-through on those promises. And that disconnect then becomes a slap in the face.

It was Black, Indigenous, brown and AAPI Pennsylvania voters who decided the presidency of the United States of America. To then have that same President, less than a year after the election, push to expand immigrant prisons, deportations and the militarization of the border is disrespectful and insulting.

We do not need more prisons. We do not need more families separated by deportations or flown to their death. We do not need more people dead at the border. Period.

As we speak, the Biden administration is pushing to turn the Berks County family prison into a women’s prison.

The same facility where, in 2014, a 19-year-old mother was repeatedly raped by a staffer. A staffer who has since been convicted, and served less time for sexual assault than the 19-year-old was incarcerated for seeking asylum.

A prison for ICE, the same agency that ripped babies out of their mothers arms to put them in cages where some were sexually assaulted, some were “lost,” some died, and all were abused and traumatized.

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This is what the President is looking to expand.

This expansion of the deportation machine is not just happening in Pennsylvania, it’s occurring everywhere in the country.

We’ve seen just how cruel this system continues to be to Haitian families seeking asylum at the border only a week ago.

It is sickening to see how ICE and Border Patrol treat asylum seekers as less than human, but it is not surprising for anyone who’s been paying even an iota of attention to those agencies.

The expansion of the deportation machine is being pushed with one hand of the administration, while the other hand distracts with the possibility, the chance, the hope for a pathway for citizenship.

Our people need citizenship now, they deserve it right away and in a manner that is immediate and just. But once again our country is doing what it has always done, offering just enough for those currently in the country while criminalizing and militarizing future immigration.

But migration doesn’t stop. Migration is normal and it’s a human right. And no level of deterrence by the United States government will stop the human instinct to survive and protect our children.

We need a pathway to citizenship and the dismantling of the deportation machine all at the same time.

We need to demand everything that our communities deserve and be unapologetic when doing so.

President Biden, it’s time to shut down Berks. It’s time to shut it all down.

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