Immigration advocates are celebrating the news that the Berks County Residential Center, an immigration detention facility in Berks County, Pennsylvania, has officially closed its doors. The closure results from the fifth immigration prison contract to end under the Biden administration. Advocates maintain the closure signals a larger trend that immigration prisons do not need to exist, while others believe the facilities are necessary for effective enforcement of immigration law.
Immigrant Detention Facilities
In the United States, immigrant detention facilities house individuals while they await legal determinations concerning their immigration status. Many organizations, including the ACLU and Freedom for Immigrants, oppose these facilities on humanitarian grounds. Nonetheless, the number of immigrant detention centers has increased in recent history, though the Biden administration has sought to limit such facilities. With an increasing immigrant population and increased efforts to enforce immigration laws, immigrant detention facilities have become the standard for housing those who violate immigration laws.
The Berks County Residential Center opened in 2001 as a “family detention center” with approximately 100 beds. In its short history, however, there were serious allegations of abuse, including sexual assault, verbal abuse, and medical neglect. In fact, the conditions at the facility gave rise to many protests, including a hunger strike that garnered international attention.
Pennsylvania Advocates Seek to End Immigration Detention Facilities
Organized in 1998, the Pennsylvania Immigration and Citizenship Coalition seeks to advance immigrant rights and interests. Among other things, the group has tirelessly advocated for the closure of the Berks County Residential Center, citing an ongoing pattern of humanitarian concerns that justified the closure.
Many groups sought closure of the Berks County facility. Another group, Make the Road Pennsylvania, a nonprofit committed to organizing justice for communities in need, advocated for the same cause. Flor González, a member leader of the group, recently said that “this victory belongs to the immigrant families and women detained at Berks who shared their stories and demanded dignity, and to the organizers who never lost hope and never stopped fighting for immigrant families to be free and together.”
Future of Immigration Detention Facilities in the United States
The closure of the Berks County facility raises questions about the future of immigration detention facilities under the Biden administration. With 12 more detention centers with contracts expiring this year, advocates hope the Berks County facility is the first domino of many. However, the Biden administration has taken a mixed approach to immigration issues, with the number of individuals in detention increasing under President Biden’s watch.