In response to Governor Wolf’s recent letter on separated Pennsylvania immigrant families and the Berks County Detention Center, the Shut Down Berks Coalition is exasperated by the continued posturing and inaction on issues of immigration by the Governor.

Since 2014, immigrant families have been held illegally in the Berks County Detention Center. Since 2015, the administration has known that this practice was occurring. Yet, it has done the bare minimum to see family detention ended in Pennsylvania. In reality, the administration has provided excuse after excuse to not do what is legally obligated, which is to issue an Emergency Removal Order (ERO) to stop ICE from using the facility any longer as a family prison.

Art by Jeanne D'Angelo

For over a year now, immigrant families have been cruelly separated resulting in the detention of parents and children in separate prisons. For decades families have been separated through ICE arrests and deportations, leaving hundreds of thousands of children in the same exact position you’ve described. Yet, it is only now that you raise concern of these practices, just weeks after state police are being sued for their ongoing collaboration with ICE. And to address the Berks County Detention Center without any commitment to issuing an Emergency Removal Order, is just political posturing. Words without action read as disingenuous.  

This is after four years of calling on you directly, Governor Wolf, to issue an ERO. Four years of your administration dismissing Pennsylvanians from across the commonwealth calling on you to do so, ignoring this coalition and the legal research we have provided and refusing to ever meet with us directly to review said research. Disingenuous is the only word we have for your letter.

“I want to reiterate my opposition to the continued detention of children at the Berks County Residential Center (BCRC) in Pennsylvania. I am also reiterating my request that ICE explore community placements for these children and their families. Pennsylvania and the federal government should no longer detain families with children. I take our obligation to protect vulnerable populations in our commonwealth very seriously - and no more so than for children.” - Governor Tom Wolf

Words are not enough Governor, we need real action by your administration. If you feel so obligated to the protection of children then you must demonstrate it beyond a press statement. Use the full power of your office to end to family detention instead of passing the buck to ICE.

We have already done the legal research for you.

We have repeatedly provided that research to your administration and the PA Department of Human Services.

And we have demonstrated clearly and succinctly how it is the responsibility of the state to issue an ERO to shut down this prison.

What this letter actually reflects is priorities. The priorities of the federal government, which is the complete disregard of the humanity of those seeking refuge, and the priorities of your administration, which has not been the safety or health of immigrant families. It is only with nationwide attention that you denounce practices you have turned a blind eye to for years. Even now, you only speak on the trauma of separated children ignoring the lasting effects abuse at the BCRC has had on families while your administration refused to act these last four years.

It is only with real action and due diligence to see this prison swiftly closed that you will demonstrate your true commitment to immigrants in the commonwealth. Anything less rings hollow.  

Governor Wolf, Lt. Governor Fetterman and Secretary Miller, your offices are required by law to act immediately to end family detention by issuing an Emergency Removal Order. We extend the invitation yet again: meet directly with us as a coalition so we can move forward on an ERO process.

The Shut Down Berks Coalition is a group of organizations and individuals fighting to close the Berks family prison in Pennsylvania and end the practice of imprisoning immigrant families in the U.S.

Learn more about the coalition here

#ShutDownBerks #EndFamilyDetention