State House Sound Bites

Capitol reporter Katie Meyer covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.

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Activist groups project faces of immigrant detainees on Harrisburg building

Written by Katie Meyer, Capitol Bureau Chief | May 16, 2019 6:57 PM
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Activists have been pushing Governor Tom Wolf to take more drastic action to shut down the detention center. (Katie Meyer/WITF)

 

(Harrisburg) -- A group of activists is spending Thursday evening projecting images of immigrant families on a building near the state Capitol.

Their goal is the same as it has been for years. They want the state to shut down the Berks County Residential Center that, at one time or another, has housed all those families.

Though it is managed by the county on behalf of the federal government, the Berks Center has a state license. In 2016, the state Department of Human Services declined to renew it. But a state judge ordered it reinstated, and the issue has been bogged down in court ever since.  

The coalition of activists who want the facility shut down think Democratic Governor Tom Wolf has another way to close the facility: an Emergency Removal Order for the families. 

Wolf has said since there's no pressing danger to the families, he doesn't have a legal reason for the order.

Activists like Katia Perez, with Make the Road Pennsylvania, said child detention is an emergency in itself.

"I mean it is inhumane to lock up families," she said. "That's number one. You don't lock up families, you don't lock up children."

She said she thinks this year, there may be some chance Wolf will change his mind about the emergency order.

"The reason why we feel more confident this year is, he's not up for reelection anymore," she said. "We're trying to make sure we put this on his radar and keep this in the attention of the public."

A spokesperson for the Wolf administration said that while the governor "remains concerned about the well-being of children and families housed at the center while they await immigration proceedings," he and other state officials still don't have reason for emergency action.

They added, Wolf has urged the Trump administration to shut the center down.

The spokesperson said four of the people currently detained at Berks are children. They did not say how many people are housed there in total.

The facility is one of three detention centers in the U.S. for undocumented migrant families. With a capacity under 100, it's the smallest of the three--and the only one not in Texas.

This story has been updated to clarify that the Berks Center is operated by Berks County on behalf of the federal government, not operated by federal officials directly. 

Published in News, State House Sound Bites

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