READING, Pa. - For years, many Berks County residents have called on the county commissioners to close the Berks County Residential Center (BCRC), a facility in Bern Township that houses undocumented immigrants seeking asylum. Several residents asked the commissioners why the facility is still open at the commissioners' weekly meeting on Thursday.
The meeting came a day after a Commonwealth Court judge denied a petition requesting the emergency removal of the center's residents amid concerns that they could contract COVID-19. The judge ruled that there was insufficient legal cause to remove the families.
Commissioner Christian Y. Leinbach read some of the court decision: "Petitioners point to their subjective and unsupported allegations as the basis for claiming that the conditions at the BCRC and the facilities response to COVID-19 pandemic demonstrate gross incompetence, negligence, or misconduct likely to constitute an immediate and serious danger to their lives or health. The uncontroverted evidence that lies in the petitioners' subjective fears and demonstrates that the BCRC has taken steps to mitigate the risk of residents being exposed to or contracting COVID-19."
Leinbach continued to read some of the measures cited, including the suspension of admissions, visitations, and field trips; enhanced preventative cleaning of the facility; staff training and the requirement to wear masks and gloves at all times; daily staff screenings before entering the facility; adequate space for social distancing; the issuance of PPE to the residents and more.
The court decision also stated that none of the staff or residents has tested positive for COVID-19 and, "...these subjective concerns do not support the extraordinary remedy requested here..."
Despite that decision, several people spoke out against the conditions at the facility and demanded that it be closed.
"Members of this board have publicly stated that they support the shutdown of the center but have claimed it's not a priority at the moment," said a Centre Park resident. "During the COVID-19 pandemic, there has never been a better moment for you to stand up bravely and clearly show us which side you are on."