WASHINGTON — One of the most vocal opponents of the federal government's migrant detention center in Berks County is applauding the decision to close it.
Pennsylvania U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, a Democrat, has long fought against the Berks County Residential Center, a county-owned building in Bern Township that was leased by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency.
Berks County announced Wednesday that, effective Jan. 31, the federal government will end its contract for leasing the building, which currently houses migrant women who are seeking asylum in the United States.
"Closing the Berks detention center is a long overdue step to deliver justice to the vulnerable migrant families and children who were previously detained there," Casey said in a news release that was issued by his Washington office. "For years I have raised concerns about the conditions at Berks to multiple presidential administrations. I have also urged the Department of Homeland Security to close the center for good to ensure that no future family will endure what they did in detention. The job of government is to protect children, not incarcerate them."
In his news release, Casey outlined the steps he has taken to advocate on behalf of the migrants being detained by the federal government, including those in Berks County.
2015-2016: Casey sent multiple letters to then-Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, urging an end to the practice of family detention and expressing concern about reported conditions for families and children subject to prolonged detention at the Berks County Residential Center.
May 2017: Casey urged the Trump administration to end the detention of four families at the BCRC, leading a bicameral letter to then-Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly and calling him. Casey also sent a letter to then-President Donald Trump, urging him to help a 5-year-old child who was deported with his mother despite possibly being eligible for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status.
Oct. 24, 2019: Following a summertime visit to the facility amid reports of migrant families being denied access to medical care and adequate sleep, Casey and U.S. Rep. Chrissy Houlahan sent a letter pressing ICE to provide more information on conditions at the BCRC.
Dec. 20, 2019: Casey sent a letter to ICE, urging the immediate release of Maddie, a 6-year-old child who had been in detention for more than six months. The letter also requested information about the length of time families were being detained and followed up on questions regarding healthcare services from his October letter.
July 16, 2020: Following a federal court ruling calling for the release of all children and families in detention because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Casey sent a letter to ICE, questioning what steps it was taking to comply with the ruling and urging for the unified release of families from the BCRC.
Nov. 20, 2020: Casey and U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, a New Jersey Democrat, sent a letter to then-acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf, urging him to stay the removals of 28 children and their families detained at the BCRC and at the South Texas Family Residential Center (STFRC) in Dilley, Texas, immediately release them from ICE custody, and allow them the opportunity to present their claim for asylum or related relief.
Dec. 17, 2020: On a call with ICE, Casey pressed officials about the status of families at the BCRC.
Feb. 28, 2021: Casey announced that all families held at the BCRC had been released and called for the permanent closure of the center.