A Berks County commissioner is calling for the closure of the Berks County Residential Center (BCRC), a county facility contracted by the federal government to house undocumented immigrant families while they go through the process of seeking asylum from their country of origin.
Commissioner Kevin Barnhardt said Tuesday that he wants to end the county's contract with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for operation of the facility in Bern Township.
Barnhardt, the lone Democrat on the three-member board of commissioners, said the number of people being housed at the center is down, and he is concerned about the center's future
Barnhardt's statements come on the heels of a New York Times report that said some immigrants captured during widespread raids could be held at the Bern Township facility.
"This is really a stain on our country, what's taking place right now nationally, and I want to really, at least from my standpoint, to say this needs to stop in Berks County," Barnhardt said.
Barnhardt said he realizes closing the center, which has been in operation since 2001, could result in a loss of jobs. He said the 59 employees have done a "great job" under extreme pressure.
"My decision certainly could create additional challenges with displaced employees and a mostly vacant structure, but every difficult decision comes with additional challenges," Barnhardt said. "I have not come upon this decision lightly, but with the national irrational policy discussions, I can no longer stand by and not take a position to do what is right as a county commissioner."
69 News reached out to the county's other commissioners -- Republicans Christian Leinbach and Mark Scott.
Scott, who lost his bid for another term in May's primary election, said Barnhardt is entitled to his own opinion, but that his own opinion on the center hasn't changed. He said he's steadfast in his support of the federal immigration law enforcement efforts and that the center in Bern Township is part of those efforts.
Leinbach has not yet responded to a request for comment.
Barnhardt is not the first public official to call for the center's closure. U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont demanded the facility be shut down during his campaign for the Democratic nomination in the 2016 race for president.
That same year, Pennsylvania U.S. Sen. Bob Casey led more than a dozen of his colleagues in calling on the Obama administration to close the center.