Families Are Being Held Like Criminals in the US, And It Has to STOP

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Berks immigration hunger strike

A group of moms are going on a hunger strike for a VERY important reason.

Like many, I live every day going through life taking for granted liberties, such as decent food, a comfortable place to call home, and having the ability to travel to see my family across state lines without restrictions.

I’m ashamed to admit that I knew very little about immigration until very recently. 

I had no idea the treatment some families, including small kids, are receiving. All they want is a chance to flee violence and live here legally. 

When I hear of detention centers, the first thing that pops into my mind are misbehaving teens who need a good ass kicking, being locked away for a week to show them what happens when you don’t listen to your parents. But for many children, detention means being locked away without trail, without any due process for up to a year. And the reason why is truly heartbreaking. 

I just assumed, like I think many do, that immigrants come to the U.S. and begin their new lives as free American citizens. I knew there was a vetting process and that they would need to go through testing to officially become a citizen, but what I didn’t know was that there are three family detention centers in America: two in Texas, and one in Leesport, Pennsylvania, which is the one that is making news right now for being inhumane, and downright horrible to those who live there.

In the Berks Family Detention Center, parents are seeking asylum in the United States with their children from their war-torn, violent, gang infested home lands. Most from Central America.

The purpose of Berks is to keep families together while they await hearings for political asylum (refugees) or immigration issues. But conditions are so bad at these detention centers that 22 mothers are currently on a hunger strike at Berks, demanding release.

At first, you might wonder why. Shouldn’t they be grateful to be here?

Well, let’s go back a bit and learn a little about the process. 

In 1996, the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act was passed, officially mandating detention for immigrants during the time they seek asylum.

Sounds good, right? We don’t want terrorists just walking into America. I get it. These detention centers need governing, so they created the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) which falls under our Department of Homeland Security. They are there to make sure that any violations are dealt with accordingly.

Again, great! But (and there’s always a but) who’s taking care of the violations against the immigrants? They have rights, too, surely! I don’t mean a right to vote, but basic human rights. Which brings us back to Berks and the current hunger strike underway. 

I won’t beat around the bush here, it’s basically a prison. The detention center is fenced in, with those living inside unable to leave.

These are women and children, as young as two years old. These are not convicted criminals.

The families brought into the detention center aren’t supposed to be there for longer than 20 days, just while the paperwork is handled. In those 20 days, the immigrants have access to the medical team within the building for any health-related issues. There are even education classes for the children.

It all sounds good in theory, except that it's been found the conditions within Berk are inhumane. 

So inhumane that they actually lost their licensing earlier this year. 

They even separated a 3 year-old from his mother for days, even though his grandmother would have been able to care for him. 

However, Berks is still up and running while they appeal the decision. 

One example of these violations is the story of a mother who was there (and still is) for longer than the average 20 days. She requested health care for her child who had exhibited symptoms of an illness. She was denied proper care, and the child eventually was found to be positive for Shigellosis, a highly contagious bacteria that causes severe vomiting and diarrhea.

There was an outbreak within the facility, forcing a nine year old child to wear a diaper due to the severity of the illness. When she asked to leave to get the appropriate care for her child, they said she was more than welcome to go back to her country. How is this OK?

In an open letter to the Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson, the mothers state that as of August 8, 2016, they have begun an indefinite hunger strike.

They say their children contemplate suicide because of the poor conditions, and they’ve had enough.

The mothers would rather die to give their children freedom than to continue to stand by and allow this atrocity to continue. Here is a list of the 22 mothers, their children, and the length of time they've been detained.

All significantly longer than the 20 days Jeh Johnson said was the average time families are held in ICE detention. 

Imagine being a mom with kids, detained this long without proper care:

Protestors have taken up position around the facility, demanding release of the asylum seekers. As of right now, it doesn’t look like anything is changing and no official comments have been released regarding the operation of Berks.

We can’t stand by and let this happen. This is not what America is.

We are the land of the free and home of the brave, and these mothers are some of the bravest I’ve seen.

Let’s help them! You can sign the petition here or call Thomas Decker of Philadelphia Regional ICE office to demand their release immediately at 215-656-7164.

Learn more about the hunger strike at HumanRightsFirst.org.