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August 19, 2015

Family Detention in Berks County, Pennsylvania

“We are not delinquents who should be imprisoned.”

– Eleven-year-old girl on her detention at Berks County Residential Center

Summary and Recommendations

The Berks County Residential Center is a facility in Pennsylvania where U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detains immigrant and asylum-seeking families. The Berks facility is currently one of three family detention centers in the United States along with the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, Texas and the Karnes County Residential Center in Karnes City, Texas. The Berks County Residential Center is operated by the County of Berks.

Since June 2014, when the Obama Administration announced its plans to send large numbers of families from Central America seeking asylum into immigration detention, families detained at the three detention facilities—Dilley, Karnes, and Berks—have suffered the detrimental effects on their physical and mental health associated with being detained, lengthy detention stays, and lack of access to legal counsel. Some have even suffered abuse, including a 19-year-old mother who reported being sexually assaulted by a staff member and an eight-year-old girl who witnessed the assault at the Berks facility earlier this year.

Detention is not only harmful to children and families, but also expensive to taxpayers at an average daily cost of $343 per person. The American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Bar Association, Catholic and Lutheran Bishops, Members of Congress, and an array of other voices have called on the administration to end the practice of family detention.

On June 24, 2015, Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson announced a series of reforms, including measures aimed at reducing the length of family detention stays for families who had passed a protection screening (credible fear or reasonable fear) interview. On July 24, 2015, the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California issued an order instructing the government to show why it should not be ordered to comply with the Flores Settlement Agreement, which articulates the legal standards for the detention, release, and treatment of children by immigration authorities. That ruling was preceded by a February 2015 ruling of a federal court in Washington D.C., which also called into question the administration’s policy of holding families in immigration detention facilities.

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