#ShutDownBerks: 17 Senators, including Tim Kaine, say, “Shut down Berks!”

The United States built a special hell for immigrant women and children, Berks Family Detention Center. About 30 Central American women and children asylum seekers are currently held in Berks. Children aged 2 to 16 make up almost half the prisoners. The mothers have organized. They have gone on work strikes and hunger strikes. They have protested the toxic environment for their children, and they have protested the abandonment of their children. They have protested the inhumanity, cruelty and violence that is visited upon their children and upon them. Last month, 17 United States Senators, including current Vice-Presidential candidate Tim Kaine, wrote a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson: “The lawmakers note that women and children as young as two-years-old have been in detention for nearly a year or longer at the Berks County Residential Center in Pennsylvania. The letter expresses concern that children at the detention facility are exhibiting serious health problems and experiencing psychological harms associated with prolonged detention.”

The letter was signed by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Senator Robert P. Menendez (D-N.J.), Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Senator Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Senator Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Senator Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Senator Al Franken (D-Minn.), Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Senator Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), and Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.)

Here’s their letter:

September 27, 2016

The Honorable Jeh Johnson
Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Washington, D.C. 20528

Dear Secretary Johnson:

We write to reiterate our strong belief that the policy of family detention is wrong and should be ended immediately. Although we were encouraged to hear your announcement in August that the average length of detention for asylum-seeking mothers and children from Central America’s Northern Triangle has been reduced to 20 days or less, the ongoing use of family detention remains unacceptable.

We are particularly concerned about the children who have been detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for prolonged periods at the Berks County Residential Center in Pennsylvania. These children range in age from two to sixteen and many have been in detention for nearly a year or longer. Recent reports from a number of media sources indicate the children are exhibiting serious health problems and experiencing psychological harms associated with prolonged detention.

Detention of families should only be used as a last resort, when there is a significant risk of flight or a serious threat to public safety or national security that cannot be addressed through other means. We urge you to review these cases individually and release these children with their mothers immediately unless there is compelling evidence that they pose a specific public safety or flight risk that cannot be otherwise ameliorated through alternatives to detention.

The mothers of these children fled three of the most dangerous countries in the world to seek refuge in the United States. The brutal physical, gender-based, and sexual violence in the Northern Triangle is well-documented. Many of these mothers have asylum claims based on rape, severe domestic violence, and murder threats, and the Third Circuit Court of Appeals has issued a stay barring the deportation of some of them until those claims can be fully resolved. The decision by ICE to detain these women and children while they pursue their claims has placed these mothers in the impossible position of choosing between their legal right to seek long-term refuge in the United States and the immediate well-being of their children. It is unconscionable to keep these children locked up and goes against our most fundamental values.

There is strong evidence and broad consensus among health care professionals that detention of young children, particularly those who have experienced significant trauma as many of these children have, is detrimental to their development and physical and mental health. This evidence has been reinforced by specific examples of children in the Berks County facility who are experiencing adverse health outcomes due to detention. Reports indicate that room checks conducted by facility staff every fifteen minutes lead to habitual sleep deprivation among the children, and a pediatric assessment of a six-year-old child suffering from chronic Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder indicates that after prolonged detention the child is now showing signs of extreme stress and anxiety.

Last week, the President hosted the Leaders’ Summit on the Global Refugee Crisis. During this summit, the United States asked other countries to follow our lead and provide protection and increased resources for the millions of people currently facing persecution around the world. However, this summit took place against the backdrop of a system of family detention in the United States that is inconsistent with our country’s longstanding commitment to provide safe and humane refuge to those fleeing persecution. The ongoing use of family detention is wrong. The prolonged detention of the mothers and children in Berks is taking a significant toll on their mental and physical wellbeing. We urge you to review these cases immediately and use your authority to release these children with their mothers unless there is compelling evidence that they pose a specific public safety or flight risk that cannot be mitigated through alternatives to detention.

Sincerely,

 

(Image Credit: Grid Philly / Jameela Walgren) (Photo Credit: Democracy Now)

#ShutDownBerks: The Mothers of Berks launch a hunger strike

 


This week, twenty-two women held in the Berks County Family Detention Center launched an indefinite hunger strike. After so many violations of their dignity and of the humanity of their children, the Mothers of Berks, las Madres Berks as they call themselves, still believe in humanity, not only their own but that of their captors, and so, after the violence and lies and campaigns designed to teach them despair, they continue to write open letters and to launch new campaigns. They continue to wage hope. This week, hope is a hunger strike, to the death if necessary.

The women continue to say that peace, love and justice will prevail over violence. The violence comes in many ways. The State forces the women into prison. The State forces the women’s children into prison. It forces the women to watch the children suffer. Then, the State lies. More than lies, it covers the women and children in ever intensifying blankets of lies, as it attempts to poison the very concepts of asylum, refuge, and humanity with lies.

The Madres Berks’ letter reads, in part:

“The Immigration Department has made a public announcement stating that in family detention center parents and children are detained no longer than 20 days.

WE WANT TO DISPROVE THIS INFORMATION!!

We are 22 mothers who are detained at Berks Family Residential Center being mothers who have been from 270 days to 365 days in detention with children ages 2 to 16 years old, depriving them of having a normal life, knowing that we have prior traumas from our countries, risking our own lives and that of our children on the way until we arrived here, having family and friends who would be responsible for us and who are waiting for us with open arms and that immigration refuses to let us out. Seeing these injustices, we have decided to go on an indefinite hunger strike until we obtain our immediate freedom because all of us left our countries of origin fleeing violence, threats and corruption that not even the government of each of our countries in Central America can control.

On many occasions our children have thought about SUICIDE because of the confinement and desperation that is caused by being here. The teenagers say BEING HERE, LIFE MAKES NO SENSE, THAT THEY WOULD LIKE TO BREAK THE WINDOW TO JUMP OUT AND END THIS NIGHTMARE, and on many occasions they ask us if we have the courage to escape. Other kids grab their IDs and tighten them around their necks and say that they are going to KILL themselves if they don’t get out of here. The youngest kids (2 years old) cry at night for not being able to express what they feel. For a long time, the children have not been eating well, but they have never paid attention to our complaints about the food until now.

We are desperate and we have decided that: WE WILL GET OUT ALIVE OR DEAD.If it is necessary to sacrifice our lives so that our children can have freedom: WE WILL DO IT!”

The women signed the letter as “Mother with … “; for example, “Mother with 6-year-old-daughter with 365 days in detention.” 22 women; 25 children, ranging in age from 2 to 16; six children are four and under. 47 women and children share 5923 days behind bars, almost 16 years. This is the bitter math of democracy today. This is, and cannot be, our truth. The women of Berks say they deserve freedom today, and they say their captors deserve to set them free.

Someone once wrote,

“The ministers lie, the professors lie, the television lies, the priests lie.
What are these lies?
They mean that the country wants to die …
These lies mean that something in the nation wants to die.”

The Mothers of Berks refuse to die, though they are ready to do so for their children … and for ours. They are the part of the nation that wants to live, that wants to move from the violence and trauma to the better math of democracy and justice, which is that of love. #ShutDownBerks #EndFamilyDetention #Not1More

 

(Photo Credit: Telesurtv)

#ShutDownBerks: The United States of Abandonment Devours Three Year-Old Immigrant Children

When three-year-old child Catherine Checas vomited blood, Berks staff told her mother to have her ‘drink lots of water’.

Last week, from Wednesday until Saturday, the Berks County Residential Center held a 3-year-old boy-child from El Salvador without his mother. He was only released because of the intervention of local immigration attorney Carol Ann Donahoe. Otherwise, that three-year-old would still be behind bars, alone. The State will tell you mistakes happen. There was no mistake here. This is part of the establishment of the United States of Abandonment, and it now reaches to three-year old children.

The story here is that the boy’s 21-year-old mother was taken to hospital, and so the boy was left behind. That’s it. No one thought to call the mother’s contacts or attorney or anyone. In fact, the three-year-old is now in Virginia, where his grandmother lives. Again, that only happened because of the strenuous labor on the part of attorneys and supporters. If you want to know what the climate, call it reign of terror, is inside Berks, the mother “asked that her name not be used because she feared repercussions from staff.”

Carol Anne Donohoe remarked, “This is outrageous. Picture a 3-year-old being detained without his mother, who is in the hospital. He has no idea what that means at the age of 3.” According to Donohoe, after three or four days of “State care”, the child is “emotionally traumatized”, not eating, throwing tantrums and kicking at doors. This is how we take care of children.

Picture a 3-year-old.

Earlier this year, an immigration judge, who is also responsible for training other judges, stated, in a sworn deposition, that immigrant 3- and 4-year olds can represent themselves in court, “I’ve taught immigration law literally to 3-year-olds and 4-year-olds. It takes a lot of time. It takes a lot of patience. They get it. It’s not the most efficient, but it can be done.” The Legal Aid Justice Center, in Virginia, decided to picture the 3-year old and the 4-year old, and filmed them answering questions of law. The children failed … brilliantly and adorably, conclusively and predictably as well. Three short months later, a 3-year-old is left to fend for himself in prison.

This is the United States of Abandonment: “Zones of abandonment … accelerate the death of the unwanted.” These are the unwanted: “the mentally ill and homeless, AIDS patients, the unproductive young, and old bodies.” Add to that the Central American woman, and the list is complete.

Can a three-year-old represent herself in immigration court? No. Can a three-year-old take care of himself in immigration detention? No. No ethical human being can ask those questions. The questions are criminal. The posing of the questions is beyond inhumane. Nothing out of the ordinary happened in Berks last week. A three-year-old was traumatized, again, just like the four-year old boy-child last year in Karnes. A young mother was traumatized into anonymity and silence, again. The inhuman geography of the United States of Abandonment spreads and intensifies. End the carnage now. #ShutDownBerks #EndFamilyDetention #Not1More

 

(Photo Credit: The Guardian) (Video Credit: Legal Aid Justice Center / Vimeo)

Prison is neither a childcare nor a residential center

Dunia Romero and daughter Stefany.

The United States has built three special hells for immigrant women and children: the Berks Family Residential Center, in Leesport, Pennsylvania; the South Texas Family Residential Center, in Dilley, Texas; and the Karnes County Residential Center, in Karnes City, Texas. U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement is very proud of Karnes. When first opened, ICE boasted, “The Karnes County Residential Center (KCRC) is the first facility housing ICE detainees built from the ground up with ICE’s civil detention standards in mind. It represents a significant milestone in the agency’s long-term effort to reform the immigration detention system.” Last Friday, April 29, despite numerous `deficiencies’, Karnes was issued a temporary residential childcare license. Rather than a significant milestone in any attempt to reform anything, this is just another scene in the theater of cruelty that is immigration policy. Prison is neither a childcare nor a residential facility. Ask Dunia Romero and her fifteen-year-old daughter Stefany; ask Josie and her ten-year old son Manuel; ask Susana Arévalo Hernández and her two children; ask the mothers of Berks, Dilley, Karnes, and to a person they will tell you the same thing: “This is a prison. We fled violence and you have treated us as criminals. Why?” End the torture of women and children, and while you’re at it, stop the abuse of language and common sense. Prison is not childcare.

Yesterday, Dunia Romero and her daughter joined dozens of other undocumented mothers and children in a demonstration outside the White House. They are part of the Esperanza que Florece – Blooming Hope campaign, urging people to send Mother’s Day postcards to four prominent and influential mothers: Michelle Obama, Jill Biden, Celia Muñoz, Valerie Jarrett. The postcards call for an end to “family detention.”

Yesterday, as well, a judge in Austin granted a temporary restraining order to stop the Dilley prison from being licensed until a full court hearing on May 13. While it’s only a temporary stay, it’s an important step, and it was initiated by a lawsuit filed by two women prisoners of Dilley and Grassroots Leadership. The Karnes prison retains its license.

Today, the Center for American Progress released A Short-Term Plan to Address the Central American Refugee Situation, which noted, “The administration should close the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, Texas, and the Karnes County Residential Center in Karnes City, Texas, and release those detained mothers and children who do not pose a security or flight risk that cannot otherwise be mitigated … The administration should create short-term processing centers for families upon arrival that function like shelters rather than prisons. These centers would give families the ability to get their bearings in the United States; attend legal orientations and connect with pro bono counsel; and receive medical, mental health, and other needed care.”

This Mother’s Day, various groups – including currently and formerly imprisoned women and children refugees, legal teams, advocacy groups, and just plain folks – again attempt to move the State to turn its prisons into shelters and its swords into welcoming arms. Please consider joining others by sending a postcard, the link is here. Honor Mothers’ Day this year by joining the fight to release imprisoned immigrant mothers and children and by ending family detention now.

 

(Photo credit: Armando Trull / WAMU) (Image Credit: We Belong Together)

This Easter, spare a thought for refugee women and children in detention

Concerns about the detention of children have become an international issue. International human rights legislation provides that child migrants should not be detained for immigration-related reasons. Detailed information about un-accompanied children is not available; however, it is known that within some countries children are routinely being detained. For example, in November 2015 more than 100 countries criticised Australia for detaining women and children within offshore facilities.

The detention of children, even for short periods is understood to be harmful. The United States has the largest number of immigration centres and some of these detain families. #ShutDownBerks is campaigning to stop this Pennsylvania detention centre operating illegally and violating not only human rights but also domestic civil law.

Concerns about the welfare of women and children in immigration detention centres are shared by campaigners around the world. In the United Kingdom, Women for Refugee Women has organised a campaign called #SetHerFree. This campaign not only highlights that women are being detained indefinitely without their friends or family but are also pregnant.

In April 2015, the government of Greece said that people were being held in horrendous conditions and their continued incarceration was unaffordable. United Nations Human Rights High Commissioner’s European representative Jan Jarab explained, “There has to be facilities of a non-prison type character and it is clear that to create all this will require a kind of redirection of the government’s energies”. This is clearly needed within all countries around the world, especially within the most developed countries where there are many examples of acts against humanity for refugee women and children in detention. In the report about the release of refugees from immigration centres in Greece, a detainee said, “This was like prison, this was not a centre, at centres you can go outside, you can play ball, this was like a prison.”

 

(Photo Credit: Make The Road New York)

#ShutDownBerks: The mothers of Berks Family Detention Center demand justice!

The United States built a special hell for immigrant women and children, Berks Family Detention Center. While U.S. immigration policy has swung between hang-em-high and hang-em-higher, the one constant since 2001 has been Berks Family Detention, which from the beginning has been criticized for inhumane treatment and general brutality towards its prison populations, largely women and children. Last year, the women inside Berks turned up the heat, and the Center’s license was revoked. That hasn’t mean the prison closed, though. It continues to operate, without a license, while appealing the decision. Meanwhile, the brutality continues. The most recent turn is an outbreak of what could be shigellosis, which would be particularly dangerous for children. Despite documented symptoms, the Center has refused treatment. The response of ICE has been, “Go back to where you came from.” Increasingly poor health and more and more damaged bodies is part of the plan, especially for immigrant women and children.

A mother of a five-year old daughter wrote, “My daughter has been having diarrhea for about three weeks now and we went to see a doctor but they did not give us any medication not even serum. With every passing day her behavior is getting worse and the psychologist just tells me to be patient. I need you to give me the adequate medication and that you give me the opportunity to take my case outside of here. I am not a criminal. You gave the opportunity to other persons that have been deported to leave, why did you not give it to me. It has been more than four months that I have been detained.”

ICE responded, “Thank you! You may dissolve [sic] your case at any time and return to your country. Please use the medical department in reference to health related issues.”

You may dissolve your case at any time and return to your country, which means, “Die here, in custody, or at home. It’s all the same to us, and thank you! Have a nice day.”

This week, mothers inside Berks petitioned to be heard, concerning the license issue and more. They want to describe the conditions inside and the impact on their children and on themselves. According to Pennsylvania State Senator Daylin Leach, “As the minority chairperson of the Senate Judiciary Committee, I am intimately familiar with lawful and appropriate detention conditions and protocols. While the Berks facility is not a state prison under my purview, it is a facility in our Commonwealth that is currently holding human beings, including children, against their will in conditions that seem negligent, abusive, and tragic. Though the legal status of the facility is in question, the treatment of human beings should not be.”

The treatment of human beings should not be in question, but it is. The very humanity of human beings, Central American women and children, is continually denied and diminished, by the “humane treatment” of Berks Family Detention Center. Berks is a prison designed as a house of the dead, with a cheerful “Thank you!” over its entrance door.

Last month, thirty mothers in Berks wrote an open letter: “Our children have suffered psychological damage, and many of them have suffered health-wise, because of this confinement, and not to mention the racist abuse and poor treatment from certain members of the staff in this detention center, but especially by the agents of ICE that play and mock our dignity as immigrants. We came here seeking refuge. We came to this country to save our lives and the lives of our children.”

They came as refugees and were dumped into cages, where they were told to rot or return. This is the syntax of asylum: you may dissolve your case at any time and return to your country. #Not1More #ShutDownBerks #SetHerFree

 

(Photo Credit: vamosjuntos.org)

Honor Mariam Ibrahim Yusuf by shutting down the detention centers

Mariam Ibrahim Yusuf

In England, today, the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) joined a local ngo, Migrants Organise, to award Mariam Ibrahim Yusuf the Woman of the Year Award. Mariam Ibrahim Yusuf fled Somalia years ago, landing up in Kenya, and then moved on to the United Kingdom. She knew no English, had no friends or acquaintances there, and knew nothing about asylum processes. She just knew she deserved to live with dignity and respect. Yusuf left her family, in particular her children, behind, and has not been able to contact them. Par for the course, Yusuf was dumped in Yarl’s Wood, days after arriving, and then denied asylum. She’s been appealing that decision for eight years. During the asylum process, the applicant cannot work, and so Mariam Ibrahim Yusuf is meant to beg. But instead she sings and speaks out and organizes. She is the woman of the year, and it is a year, another year, of shame and hope.

Mariam Ibrahim Yusuf moved to Manchester, found a place to live with other women asylum seekers, and joined WAST, Women Asylum Seekers Together. Together, Mariam Ibrahim Yusuf and her sisters have called, sung, stamped, chanted and organized to shut down Yarl’s Wood, and to shut down all detention centers. From Australia to the United Kingdom to the United States, abolition is in the air, and its current stations are immigrant detention centers. A global forest of hashtags is sprouting, from #ShutDownBerks to #ShutDownYarlsWood and #SetHerFree to #LetThemStay, individuals are forming local groups that are becoming national organizations that are becoming international, from Juntos to Women for Refugee Women and Movement for Justice to the International Alliance Against Mandatory Detention, made up of Australian activists living around the world. Another world is possible.

As nation-States built more and more special hells for women asylum seekers and for immigrant and migrant women, generally, the women organized and said, NO! We are not animals, we are humans. We are not trash, we are women. They also spoke for their children, who were daily being crushed by the prison experience. Their children cry out, “I am not a criminal. I don’t want to be locked up here anymore.”

The abuse of children in detention centers in Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States is torture, and it’s a crime against humanity, which is being called out and judged now. When a judge says that 3- and 4-year-old children can represent themselves in court, he has done more than condemn the process. He has shown what happens to the rule of law when it discounts the humanity of those who enter not only the court, but also the land itself. His tortured logic emerges as part of a systematic application of torture as a form of reasoned jurisprudence.

That system of torture is global, and it focuses on women and children.

Berks is inhumane and abusive, and even the lawmakers say so. Yarl’s Wood is a house of shame. Nauru, Villawood and all the Australian solutions to the crisis of human beings seeking help are one giant pit of disgrace. In each case, the arc of atrocity is expanding, infecting structures from education to health care but also the ways in which we view one another and ourselves. The debt that the abuse of asylum seekers creates is trauma for the asylum seekers and daily and increasing loss of our humanity.

Mariam Ibrahim Yusuf is the woman of the year, because another world is possible. Tomorrow, led by Movement for Justice, thousands will gather around Yarl’s Wood and raise a ruckus. Thousands are organizing across the United States to shut down Berks, Dilley and Karnes as well. Across Australia, people are organizing not only to shut down the detention centers and the entire juridical apparatus that feeds the monster. They are wondering if this is “the moment” in which we will join in solidarity, across oceans and borders. Maybe it is. One thing is certain. We’ve passed enough-is-enough. The time is now. #ShutDownYarlsWood #SetHerFree #LetThemStay #ShutDownBerks #Not1More #NeverAgain Do it for Mariam Ibrahim Yusuf, and for all the women and children. Until the prisons are closed, we are all imprisoned.

 

(Photo Credit: WorldPost / Rifat Ahmed) (Video Credit: Women for Refugee Women / YouTube)

We are the mothers, victims of the raids

Tengo miedo – drawing by a child held at Dilley


Susana Arévalo Hernández and her two children
have left the South Texas Family Residential Center, that special hell the United States paid Texas to build in Dilley. Arévalo was one of a number of women and children picked up in raids in early January, picked up, thrown around, and dumped into cages like so much trash. Since her imprisonment, Arévalo has suffered seven epileptic seizures. Her six-year-old son lives with a learning disability. What happened to Susana Arévalo Hernández is the ordinary torture of women who seek asylum.

Susana Arévalo Hernández fled gang violence in El Salvador to run straight into State violence in the United States. According to various reports, ICE agents lied to gain access to her home, and herself and her children. Doctors report that her condition in detention imperils her health and life. Lawyers report that every day in prison is a further violation of her and her children’s human rights and rights to due process. None of this matters. While Arévalo walked, other women and children remain in Dilley detention.

Here’s what should matter: “Every time I have a seizure, I think I’m not coming back. I don’t want my children to see that.” A mother’s concern for her children should matter. It doesn’t.

Susana Arévalo Hernández was one of seven women who wrote a letter to President Obama, which reads, in part: “We are the mothers, victims of the raids … We would like to ask you for our freedom from this unjust detention … We complied with everything that was asked of us, but the system that failed us, just because we came to this country to seek protection, because we couldn’t go back to our countries of origin due to being exposed to so much violence and threats against us and our children. That’s why we came to this country to request asylum … We are not criminals who you have to keep locked up. We have not committed any crime and it is unjust that our children, at such an early age, know what it’s like to be in a jail under guard 24 hours, when at this moment they should be in school living life with dignity like every child deserves to … We need to be free as human beings to be able to fight our cases outside with dignity.”

Ana Silvia Orellana, Dominga Rivas, Elsy Monge López, Gloria Díaz Rivas, Isamar Sanchez Chicas, Marta María Hernández and Susana Arévalo Hernández signed that letter. They represented 12 families imprisoned in Dilley and Berks County, in Pennsylvania. The twelve families add up to 33 women and children. This is the arithmetics of asylum in the United States today: lies, violence, indignity, criminalization, and more intense violence. Why must a Central American woman be on death’s door to get a hearing? Why must Central American children and their mothers live in an atmosphere of fear and a reign of terror? What sort of democracy is that?

Dear President Obama … We are the mothers

 

(Image Credit 1: Houston Press) (Image Credit 2: El Pais)

#ShutDownBerks: The mothers of Berks Family Detention Center demand justice now!

 


The United States built a special hell for immigrant women and children, Berks Family Detention Center. The only thing “family” about Berks are the lies the State promulgates: “U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) established the Berks Family Residential Facility (“Berks”) in March 2001. Designed as a non-secure residential facility to accommodate the unique needs of undocumented children and their families, Berks became the first of its kind in the U.S. dedicated to keeping families and children together while undergoing immigration proceedings. Located in Leesport, PA, the eighty-five (85) bed facility that was once a nursing home is nestled in a quiet, small-town community. Berks … provides non-violent, non-criminal families with a variety of supportive services throughout their stay.” There is nothing supportive in or about Berks. That’s why the mothers of Berks Detention are on work strike. That’s why supporters will show up next Saturday, July 11, to demand the State shut it down … now.

While the U.S. immigration policy has swung back and forth between hang-em-high and hang-em-higher, the one constant since 2001 has been Berks Family Detention, and from the beginning it has been criticized for its inhumane treatment and general brutality towards its prison populations, largely women and children. Recently the women of Berks have been turning up the heat.

In April, seventeen mothers held, with their children, in Berks “camp” wrote a letter to ICE, demanding their release. ICE never responded. Cristina and her twelve-year-old son were held at Berks for 14 months: “When I started my journey to the US, all I could think about was keeping my son safe. But after several months locked up, my son didn’t even want to eat anymore. He cried all the time and kept telling me he wanted to leave, but he doesn’t understand the danger we’d face if we were sent back. He still wakes up shaking with nightmares from the trauma.” ICE continued to claim that Berks is top of the line.

On June 10, ten mothers launched a work strike. The women demand to be released and that Berks be shut down. They also demand the “free world” take responsibility for the systematic abuses taking place inside Berks: exploitation, harassment, violence. ICE continues to claim that Berks is top of the line … and perhaps it is, but it’s a line that must end today.

On Friday, June 19, at 3 a.m., one of the Mothers of Berks, 34-year-old Ana and her 12-year-old daughter were awakened and sent off to the airport, where they were whisked back to Guatemala. A judge has since ordered that Ana and her daughter be returned to the United States, citing a violation of “due process.” When Ana, in Guatemala, heard of the judge’s order, she responded, “I just want to come back.” Ana and her daughter. fled Guatemala because of partner domestic abuse. Ana and her daughter have already spent over a year in Berks.

The State tries to pass off “family detention centers” as an attempt to preserve the family, but the women and children inside those jails know better. They are prisons designed to punish immigrant women, overwhelmingly women of color, Latinas, indigenous from the Global South, for being women: “The treatment of immigrants … signals, both to immigrant communities, and to the neighbors and other citizens who observe them, that these families can be disrupted at will: children can be separated from their parents, parents can be deprived of their ability to care for or even to discipline their children without findings of inadequacy and without recourse. These families are in fact abjected: expelled from the community symbolically, before they are expelled concretely. They are reduced to beings for whom the quintessentially human imperatives of care and nurturance, and the possibilities of family formation and preservation, seem not to apply.”

As one mother inside Berks explained, “When I left the violence of my county, I never thought I would end up in a place like this. It is safer here, yes, but it is just as bad. I’m crying because I just want to leave. I don’t know when I will.” #ShutDownBerks. Do it now.

 

(Photo Credit: http://aldianews.com) (Image Credit: http://vamosjuntos.org)