BERN TWP., Pa. – The federal government late last week decided to release migrant families from the Berks County Residential Center, but activists have been left wondering if this is really the end for the detention center in Bern Township.
"We're very pleased," said Tonya Wenger of the Shut Down Berks Coalition. "I believe this is the first time that we know of there's been a release in a long time. They just emptied the center all at once."
Demands answered, however, brought more questions for members of the grassroots group.
"I think, for all of us, it was just question marks," Wenger said. "What does this mean?"
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Department of Homeland Security provided few details about the release of the remaining families from the center.
It's just one of three in the United States that houses undocumented families while they continue the immigration process.
Some people, like attorney Bridget Cambria, who represented at least seven families released Friday, allege life inside the facility was comparable to a prison.
"In the Berks facility, no child or parent is permitted to leave that facility," Cambria said. "They are under a regime that is akin to a prison routine where you wake up at six, you are required to do certain things as the day goes on and you are required to go to sleep at a certain time."
U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, a Pennsylvania Democrat, has worked for years to shut down the facility. While it's empty now, Casey said it's unclear what happens next.
"I would urge the department and urge the [Biden] administration to end family detention once and for all," he said. "There are better ways to do this."
Casey said he would like to see the federal government restore the Family Case Management program as an alternative to family detention for those seeking asylum. Run by ICE, the program used case managers to ensure individuals followed their legal obligations as they moved through the process. It was terminated in 2017.
"Our state should not be in the business of having that kind of facility, and nor should the federal government," Casey said.