A chant of “Shut down Berks!” echoed across Center City on Thursday, as migrants and allies gathered to mark what they called an unhappy anniversary — the continued operation of the Berks County detention center, four years after the state revoked its license.
“That should have been the end of it,” Temple University law student Emma Pajer told the crowd of about 25 sign-carrying demonstrators. “We’re not OK with immigrant families being detained in our state.”
Pajer was among those who worked on a new lawsuit, filed by a coalition of Pennsylvania immigrant-justice groups, that seeks to shutter the detention center by going after the state government, not the federal authorities who hold families there.
“Berks is still operating,” former South Sudan refugee Nyamal Tutdeal said, eliciting a loud response of boos. And that needs to end, she added.
Tutdeal works as policy director of the Pennsylvania Immigration and Citizenship Coalition, which joined representatives of the Free Migration Project and others near 15th and Arch Streets on Thursday.
The new Commonwealth Court suit asserts that once the Department of Human Services revoked Berks’ license, it had no authority to let the center continue to operate during an appeal. For four years, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has confined men, women, and children at a facility that has no current, valid license, the suit said.
Gov. Tom Wolf and his administration oppose the detention of migrant children at the border and in Pennsylvania, DHS said in a statement Thursday, but the Berks center is legally able to operate while its appeal is pending.
“We are committed to doing what we can to uphold quality-of-care standards," including conducting unscheduled visits, the agency said. “As long as DHS has the authority to inspect the facility, the department is committed to regular monitoring to ensure the facility is safe and providing proper care.”