Timeline of Berks County detention center and Shut Down Berks Coalition
This timeline covers the Berks County detention center (known for a large part of its life as the Berks County Residential Center) in Leesport, Berks County, Pennsylvania, as well as the Shut Down Berks Coalition, a coordinated effort to get the detention center shut down.
|Year||Month and date (if available)||Details|
|1994||August||A juvenile detention center in Leesport, Berks County, Pennsylvania begins to be used for immigration detention by the Immigration and Naturalization Servic (INS), the predecessor to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). An article suggests that despite its distance from the border with Mexico, the location may have been chosen partly because of its convenience for government officials. This would eventually lead to a nearby new building being used as a family detention center in 2001.|
|2000||May 3||By this time, construction is under way for a new detention center near the existing detention center, and discussions are happening between Berks County and INS.|
|2001||March 3||The Berks County Residential Center in the new detention center at 1040 Berks Road, Bern Township, Leesport, Berks County, Pennsylvania opens as a family detention center; Berks would be the first family detention center in the US.|
|2014||June 24||DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson submits written testimony to the House Committee on Homeland Security detailing a multi-pronged response to the 2014 migrant surge, particularly the surge in child migrants. Part of the strategy includes increasing detention capacity for children and for families. This would lead to a significant increase in the use of the Berks County Residential Center for family detention.|
|2015||October||A Human Rights First report Family Detention: Still Happening, Still Damaging discusses the state of family detention in the United States, covering the three detention centers of Berks, Dilley, and Karnes.|
|2016||January 21 (announcement), January 27 (official notice)||The Pennsylvania Department of Human Services (PA DHS) issues notice that the licensing of the Berks County Residential Center to operate as a child detention facility is being revoked and will not be renewed. The decision would be appealed in February; PA DHS would issue reports of violations to the Berks County Residential Center in the years from 2016 to 2018.|
|2016||February 22||In a blog post on the Immigration Impact bog, Lindsay Harris describes a recent visit to the Berks County Residential Center and connects the experiences in that visit with the recent decision by the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services to not renew Berks' license.|
|2016||April 15||Daniel Sharkey, a former guard at the Berks County Residential Center pleads guilty to and is sentenced for having a sexual relationship with a 19-year-old detainee from Honduras in 2014. Sexual relationships in such institutional settings are considered sexual assault, and consent by the victim is not a consideration; previous media reports suggested that the guard had threatened the victim with deportation if she told anybody about it.|
|2016||August 8||22 female detainees at Berks County Residential Center (a group calling themselves "Madres de Berks") go on hunger strike to protest the length and conditions of their detention. Their statement says that they have been detained for 270 to 365 days, well above the "20 days or less" that DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson claims is the average length of stay in family detention.|
|2016||December 11||The Sheller Center for Social Justice of the Beasley Law School of Temple University produces a legal memo outlining the legal powers of PA DHS and the Governor to close the Berks Detention Center.|
|2017||December 6||The Shut Down Berks Coalition Facebook page is created on this date.|
|2018||January||The Shut Down Berks Twitter account, @ShutDownBerks, is created.|
|2019||December 11||Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale on Wednesday calls on ICE to stop detaining people at Berks, following his office’s report citing violations of federal law (specifically, the 20 day limit set by the Flores settlement) and risks for abuse at the facility.|
|2020||January 23||Berks County settles, for $75,000, a lawsuit by a person who had been a victim of sexual assault at the facility in 2014 by then-guard Daniel Sharkey. Berks County denies the allegations in the lawsuit that other staff knew of the rape allegations, but decides to settle to avoid having its staff time used up in the lawsuit proceedings and also because they claim the victim deserves compensation.|
|2021||March||ICE announces that all families that were being held at the Berks County detention center are no longer being held there, and that the detention center will no longer be used for family detention. There are plans to use it for adult detention in the future.|
|2021||March 30||A lawsuit is filed by the Sheller Center for Social Justice at Temple University Law School against Berks County commissioners Christian Leinbach, Kevin Barnhardt, and Michael Rivera, claiming that Berks County commissioners have been talking to ICE about converting the facility into an immigrant women’s prison but have refused to make any material public.|
|2021||July 28||A letter to President Joe Biden and Vice-President Kamala Harris signed by over 50 Pennsylvania state and local officials urging the administration to not covert Berks into an immigration detention facility for adult women, citing the risk of abuse of detainees, and using the example of the T. Don Hutto Residential Center as a cautionary tale of a similar transformation.|
|2021||September 25||Over 100 people gather in a rally at Independence Mall to protest plans to reopen the Berks County Residential Center as an immigration detention center for adult women.|
|2021||September 27||In an op-ed for The Philadelphia Inquirer, Adrianna Torres-Garcia, program coordinator for the Free Migration Project (one of the members of the Shut Down Berks Coalition) argues for the full shutdown of the Berks County detention center, as opposed to the current plan of turning it into an immigration detention center for adult women.|
|2021||September 29||In an op-ed for Generocity, Jasmine Rivera argues that the Berks County detention center should be fully shut down, as oppoosed to the current plan of turning it into an immigration detention center for adult women.|
|2021||October 4||Congresswoman Madeleine Dean, in a letter to Pennsylvania Congressional colleagues, urges the Department of Homeland Security to Terminate the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) contract at the Berks County Residential Center.|
- Moyer, Merriell (June 16, 2017). "Why a PA county houses Central American immigrant families". Lebanon Daily News. Retrieved July 4, 2021.
- Shuey, Karen; Mekeel, David; Orozco, Anthony (June 24, 2018). "What you need to know about the residential center holding immigrant families in Berks County". Reading Eagle. Retrieved July 4, 2021.
- Deppen, Colin; Hughes, Sarah Ann (June 22, 2018). "Why PA's controversial Berks detention center for immigrant families is still open. A chorus of legislators and Philadelphia City Council are calling for the facility's closure, as pressure mounts on Gov. Tom Wolf.". BillyPenn. Retrieved July 4, 2021.
- Orozco, Anthony (March 31, 2021). "Lawyers, civic groups keep the pressure on Berks Family Residential Center". WHYY. Retrieved July 4, 2021.
- "Written testimony of DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson for a House Committee on Homeland Security hearing titled "Dangerous Passage: The Growing Problem of Unaccompanied Children Crossing the Border"". U.S. Department of Homeland Security. June 24, 2014. Retrieved July 3, 2021.
- "Family Detention in Berks County, Pennsylvania" (PDF). Human Rights First. August 1, 2015. Retrieved July 3, 2021.
- "Family Detention: Still Happening, Still Damaging" (PDF). October 1, 2015. Retrieved December 18, 2021.
- "The Department of Human Services is not renewing the certificate of compliance issued to the Berks County Commissioners to operate the Berks County Residential Center as a child residential facility" (PDF). Pennsylvania Department of Human Services. January 27, 2016. Retrieved July 4, 2021.
- "Pennsylvania's legal authority to shut down Berks Family Detention Center". Center for Social Justice, Temple University Beasley School of Law. October 31, 2017. Retrieved July 4, 2021.
- "State won't renew license of Berks County Residential Center". January 30, 2016. Retrieved December 18, 2021.
- "This is to acknowledge receipt of your request to appeal the Department's decision to NON-RENEW and REVOKE the license for Berks County Residential Center." (PDF). Pennsylvania Department of Human Services. February 8, 2016. Retrieved July 4, 2021.
- "Inspection/Violation Reports for BERKS COUNTY RESIDENTIAL CENTER". Pennsylvania Department of Human Services. Retrieved July 4, 2021.
- Harris, Lindsay (February 22, 2016). "A Visit to Berks Family Detention Center Makes Clear Why They Lost their License". Immigration Impact. Retrieved December 18, 2021.
- Weaver, Stephanie (April 15, 2016). "West Reading man sentenced for sex with detainee". Reading Eagle. Retrieved December 18, 2021.
- Harris, Lindsay (April 15, 2016). "Berks Detention Center Employee Convicted of Sexual Assault of Young Honduran Mother". Immigration Impact. Retrieved December 18, 2021.
- "'We will get out alive or dead': Migrant moms on hunger strike in US family detention center". Reuters. August 13, 2016. Retrieved December 18, 2021.
- Madres de Berks (August 12, 2016). "Mothers to Homeland Security: We Won't Eat Until We Are Released". New York Times. Retrieved December 18, 2021.
- Feliz, Wendy (August 15, 2016). "Why 22 Mothers Are On a Hunger Strike at the Berks Family Detention Facility". Immigration Impact. Retrieved December 18, 2021.
- "Pennsylvania Emergency Removal Order Authority" (PDF). December 11, 2016. Retrieved December 18, 2021.
- "Shut Down Berks Coalition". Retrieved December 18, 2021.
- "Shut Down Berks Coalition". Retrieved December 18, 2021.
- Sholtis, Brett (December 11, 2019). "'Confinement and desperation' at Berks County immigrant detention center detailed in auditor general's report. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has twice denied requests to tour the Berks County Residential Center, where people are being kept for months while they await administrative hearings.". WITF. Retrieved December 18, 2021.
- Hall, Peter (January 23, 2020). "Berks County will pay $75,000 to refugee who says she was sexually assaulted by worker at immigration center". The Morning Call. Retrieved December 18, 2021.
- Hall, Peter (March 3, 2021). "Last family released from Berks County immigration detention center". The Morning Call. Retrieved December 18, 2021.
- Merchant, Nomaan (March 6, 2021). "US Says It Will Stop Using Berks Co. Detention Center to Hold Migrant Families. The detention center in Pennsylvania will instead be used by ICE to hold adults, the government said". NBC Philadelphia. Retrieved December 18, 2021.
- Gammage, Jeff (March 30, 2021). "Immigration activists sue Berks commissioners to learn plans for ICE detention center. In March the center was emptied without explanation of the immigrant families it confined for two decades". The Philadelphia Inquirer. Retrieved December 18, 2021.
- "Re: Terminate ICE contract at the Berks County Residential Center" (PDF). July 28, 2021. Retrieved December 18, 2021.
- Sweitzer, Justin (July 29, 2021). "Democrats urge feds to shut down Berks County immigration facility". City & State Pennsylvania. Retrieved December 18, 2021.
- Whelan, Aubrey (September 25, 2021). "At Independence Hall, activists call for end of ICE contract and the plan for a women's prison. "We believe that no one should be incarcerated for being a migrant," said Adrianna Torres-Garcia, of the Free Migration Project.". The Philadelphia Inquirer. Retrieved December 18, 2021.
- Campos-Sánchez, Rodrigo (October 5, 2021). "The Center on Immigration joins the fight to shut down Berks and to support Haitian immigrants". Retrieved December 18, 2021.
- Torres-Garcia, Adrianna (September 27, 2021). "It's time to close immigrant detention centers for good, not expand them. The move to expand a Berks County detention center is being driven by the Biden administration as part of their overall immigration plan, despite campaign promises to the contrary.". The Philadelphia Inquirer. Retrieved December 18, 2021.
- Rivera, Jasmine (September 29, 2021). "Opinion: It's time to permanently close Berks County's immigrant detention center. "As we speak, the Biden administration is pushing to turn the Berks County family prison into a women's prison," says guest columnist Jasmine Rivera.". Generocity. Retrieved December 18, 2021.
- "Congresswoman Madeleine Dean Leads a Letter to Terminate ICE contract at the Berks County Residential Center". October 5, 2021. Retrieved December 18, 2021.