17 protesters arrested at ICE residential center in Berks

'I am very opposed to detaining families'

BERN TWP., Pa. - The national debate over immigration took center stage in Berks County on Sunday.

More than a dozen people were arrested at a protest outside the Berks County Residential Center, which holds undocumented immigrant families.

Hundreds of people turned out to voice their displeasure with the facility's existence and the Trump administration's zero-tolerance policy on immigration.

The day started with a low-key demonstration, with protesters singing songs and making speeches, but within minutes, things quickly escalated. Members of the Shut Down Berks Coalition staged a sit-in in the middle of Berks Road.

"I am very opposed to detaining families because they are coming here for a better life," said Carol Bowers of Philadelphia.

During the protests, detainees were let outside the center. Armando Jiminez of Allentown claims the detention of families at the Berks facility is a level of mistreatment happening only to undocumented immigrants from south of the border.

"Look at [President] Trump's words," Jiminez said. "'They are rapists. They are criminals.' It's clear. This is happening because of him."

The residential center, however, was established in 2001, during the administration of President George W. Bush, and continued to operate during Barack Obama's presidency.

During a Berks County commissioners meeting on Thursday, officials said false information is being spread about the facility, which they call a "first-class operation."

Immigration and Customs Enforcement released a statement, saying "ICE's residential centers for adults with children are an effective and humane alternative to maintain family unity as families await the outcome of immigration hearings or return to their home countries."

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf tried to revoke the center's license, but to no avail, because he said Berks County made a deal with the federal government to operate the facility. That's why protesters said they planned for more than a dozen to sit and angrily chant in the street.

After a half-hour and multiple police warnings, authorities took 17 of the protesters away. Each was charged with failure of disorderly persons to disperse upon official order, which is a misdemeanor.

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