"Based on our observations, interviews, and document reviews, we concluded that, at all three facilities, ICE was satisfactorily addressing the inherent challenges of providing medical care and language services and ensuring the safety of families in detention."
The “facilities” referred to in the above statement from Department of Homeland Security Inspector General John Roth are the nation’s three detention centers, including the Berks County Residential Center in Leesport. After unannounced inspections were conducted in 2016 at the three centers, Roth and his team found “no risks or egregious violation of ICE's Family Residential Standards, which govern all aspects of family detention.”
Furthermore Berks County Commissioner Kevin Barnhardt said in a written statement regarding the Berks County center, "We are inspected frequently and I'm not at all surprised by the affirmation of the inspectors general." Barnhardt added, "Again, this report is an affirmation of the outstanding care provided by our county management and caseworkers. They truly care for their safety, education, nutrition and medical needs until their asylum situation is defined."
Apparently children showering with adults to whom they aren't related is neither an inherent challenge, risk, nor egregious violation in the eyes of both the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and County Commissioner Barnhardt.
Yes, you read that correctly! Until recently the washroom policy as outlined in the detention center’s handbook forced juveniles age 12 and under to shower in a communal facility with adults. I say ”until recently” because today it was reported that federal and state authorities tasked with overseeing the center have acknowledged the policy has been changed. Which begs the question-Given the glowing reviews from both DHS and one of our county commissioners, what prompted the policy change ?
The kick in the pants came from several directions. A Reading nonprofit, Aldea-The People’s Justice Center sent a letter to PA Secretary of Human Services Ted Dallas, demanding the policy change. The letter warned, "This is a powder keg, and when something happens, as it inevitably will, it will be on the hands of the leaders of the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services, which bears responsibility for caring for children in the commonwealth.” Another formal complaint was filed to ChildLine, PA’s abuse reporting center and was authored by immigration attorney, Carol Anne Donohoe. And it was actually immigrant rights groups like Reading-based Make the Road PA and Human Rights First, groups strongly opposed to family detention and which have consistently made complaints about conditions at the Berks facility, that prompted the inspections.
Even with the change in the shower policy, Adanjesus Marin of Make the Road PA contends that detention centers like the one in Berks “have long been, and remain, a disaster for immigrant communities and a national disgrace.”
"This is a facility licensed as a CHILD residential center," Donohoe wrote in her complaint. "The doors to the dormitory-style rooms cannot be locked, and only a curtain provides privacy for the bathroom inside the (detainee's) room. There is a valid reason why even prisons do not allow the co-detention of males and females in the same location. In this case, there are not only men and women but children as well, living with unknown adults of the opposite sex and forced to interact in extremely compromising conditions."
Hopefully their pleas will fall on more finely tuned ears.
Berks County Residential Center
Location: Bern Township
Population: The Berks center can hold up to 96 adults and children; it held 66 as recently as last week.
Who pays, runs it: Berks is contracted with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to staff and operate the center. The federal government reimburses the county for operational costs and pays the county about $1.1 million for an annual lease. ICE dictates the policies of the center’s operations.
The license: The center had a license issued by the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services to house children for more than 10 years. In January, the state agency said the center was not using the license in the way that it was intended. The state declined to renew the center’s license and moved to revoke its license in January. Berks County quickly appealed the action and continued to operate the center as it pursues legal avenues to retain its state license.
An administrative law judge ruled in April that the state DHS did not have grounds to revoke the license. Gov. Tom Wolf appointed Office of Children, Youth and Families Deputy Secretary Cathy Utz to review the administrative ruling.
Source: Reading Eagle
Learn what life is like for families living in the detention center. Inside ICE's Berks County Residential Center: Pennsylvania's Controversial Immigrant Family Detention Facility
posted by Amy Levengood