By Cherri Gregg
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — A group of immigrant advocates held a protest outside of the Philadelphia Department of Human Services on Monday, demanding that the Pennsylvania DHS shut down a Berks Detention Center that houses refugees.
The families are in limbo.
“The come from all over the world,” says Attorney Jacqueline Kane. She works at law firm in Reading, Pennsylvania and says they’ve represented more than 100 detainees kept at the Berks Detention Center. She says many of the clients fled their home country in fear and presented themselves at the US border seeking refuge. The only problem is while they await a hearing, they must wait, with their children, behind the walls of a detention center.
“We’ve had many clients spend over a year in family detention,” says Kane, who notes there are options other than restrictive retention to ensure a detainee attends their hearing.
“Thousands of refugee seekers are in other programs,” she says, “so other forms include an ankle monitoring system– or ICE check ins where they have to present themselves to an ICE office at a specific day and time.”
The Berks Detention Center is one of three U.S. facilities that house immigrants seeking asylum. The other two are in Texas and they’re technically not supposed to be “jail,” and the detainees are not viewed as “inmates.”
Activist Olivia Vasquez visited the Berks Detention Center two months ago.
“If it’s supposed to keep families safe, why couldn’t I get close to them?” she says. “They can’t leave. They can’t go anywhere.”
Jasmine Rivera of Juntos delivered a report to DHS from Human Rights First. The report details alleged human rights violations at the Berks Center ranging from sexual assault to withheld medical attention to detention of very young children, some as young as just a few days old. They want Ted Dallas, Secretary of Pennsylvania’s DHS, to shut the center down.
“The state of Pennsylvania has a say,” says Rivera, “they license this facility to operate. The Department of Human Services is supposed to be protecting these children, but by allowing them to be licensed, they are facilitating the abuse.”
Rivera and others want that license revoked.
In response to a request for comment about the license, Kait Gillis, spokesperson for the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services wrote: “We’re currently reviewing their license in light of a recent court decision that has been made affecting this facility and similar facilities in Texas. We hope to make an announcement as soon as that review is complete.”
Family detention had ended in 2009, but was resumed when tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors from Central America flooded the U.S. southern border last summer.