Activists renew call to shut down Berks immigrant detention center

Protesters gathered in the Capitol to call on Wolf for further action. (Katie Meyer/WITF)

Protesters gathered in the Capitol to call on Wolf for further action. (Katie Meyer/WITF)

A coalition of activists intent on shutting down the Berks County Residential Center is trying to convince Governor Tom Wolf to take more extreme action on the issue.

All summer, they’ve held regular rallies at the state Capitol in an effort to drive their point home. And at the latest one on Monday they renewed their call for Wolf to issue an Emergency Removal Order.

Berks is one of three facilities operated by the federal government to hold undocumented migrant families. The smallest of the three — and the only one not in Texas — it has a maximum capacity under 100 people.

Pennsylvania’s Department of Human Services already declined to renew the center’s federal license in 2016. But a federal judge ordered it reinstated, and the situation has been at a legal standstill since.

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Wolf has said while he opposes family detention, there’s not much else he can do. And spokespeople say he can’t issue an Emergency Removal Order because there’s no immediate danger in the center.

Desi Burnette, with the Movement of Immigrant Leaders in Pennsylvania, said that’s debatable.

“I’ll just leave it to your listeners,” she said in an interview. “Do you think it’s normal to imprison children who are here seeking asylum?”

If Berks were shut down, detainees would still be in federal custody.

Ralliers acknowledged, it’s unclear what would happen to them. They may be placed in the community while awaiting processing. Or they could be deported, or not moved at all.

Coalition organizers said whatever the outcome, long-term detention is unacceptable.

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