To make matters even worse, the detention center had been ordered shut down months ago by the state of Pennsylvania because of its substandard conditions. The federal government responded by filing for and getting an immediate stay of the order, effectively rescinding it despite the horrific third world environment described by both the prisoners and the various human rights and legal groups trying to help them.
Human rights activists and psychologists agree that the open-ended detention of young children is hazardous to their health, regardless of the concern-trolling "national security" propaganda that the Obama administration seeks to impart to the public.
The Berks County facility, formerly a nursing home, was later re-purposed as a juvenile delinquent detention facility before finally being modified by the non-Trumpian tender-hearted Homelanders to incarcerate both children and their mothers.
According to a brief filed by Human Rights First, the mothers first filed formal written complaints to the government about the lack of proper health care for their children last December.
One mother said that her son's skin condition had worsened since Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) imprisoned them at Berks four months previously. Instead of immediately addressing her concerns, an ICE worker advised her to make another medical appointment while icily reminding her that if she didn't like the bureaucratic brush-off, “You may accept your removal order and arrangements can be made for your removal from the United States. At this time, your custody status remains unchanged."
A mother of a five-year-old girl wrote this letter to ICE:
My daughter has been having diarrhea for about three weeks now and we went to see a doctor but they did not give us any medication, not even serum. (Pedialyte). With every passing day her behavior is getting worse and the psychologist just tells me to be patient. I need you to give me adequate medication and that you give me the opportunity to take my case out of her. I am not a criminal. You gave the opportunity to other persons who have been deported to leave, why not give it to me. It has been more than four months that I have been detained.She and other mothers daring to complain all received the same boilerplate response: make an appointment. And if you and your kids don't like waiting for one, then just get on the bus and go back to the violence-torn Honduras, Guatemala, or El Salvador that you fled in fear for your very lives.
Stop abusing the hospitality of the Exceptional USA.
After the state of Pennsylvania futilely ordered the
Out of desperation, two dozen of the incarcerated mothers began a hunger strike on August 8th.
Out of an abundance of cynical iciness, Homeland Security flacks are choosing to further denigrate and threaten the strikers rather than listen to their concerns. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer,
Advocates for the women say some staff at the center threatened the hunger strikers, saying if they did not resume eating they could grow so weak that their children would have to be taken from them.Lindsay Harris of Immigration Impact wrote about a guided tour she took of the unlicensed but still open prison for families this year:
A spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said the 75 residents at the facility have access to meals served three times a day in the cafeteria and free snacks.
According to ICE protocol, hunger strikers are to be referred for medical supervision and evaluation only after not eating for more than 72 hours or missing nine meals.
For that reason, said the ICE official, "currently no residents at the facility are considered to be on hunger strike."
Being detained at the Berks detention center has brought no end to the trauma these children endure. Every night, detention center staff wake the children and their parents every fifteen minutes, shining flashlights in their eyes, conducting sleep checks that they claim are mandated under state childcare regulations. Under the same state regulations, children, even toddlers, are not allowed to sleep in the same bed as their parents. One father, recently released from detention, told us that he begged the staff to allow his two-year-old to at least fall asleep in his arms, and then move him to his own bed, but “for safety reasons,” the staff refused.
Children we interviewed expressed concern about the medical care they received at the center. Two children explained that they had untreated tooth pain and had been waiting weeks to see a dentist to have fillings replaced. This is nothing new and complaints about inadequate care in family detention centers have been filed in July and October last year.It is the height of irony that Homeland Security even outsources its official inspections of Berks and its other migrant and federal prisons to a for-profit corporation called the Nakamoto Group, whose wealthy founder has actually received humanitarian awards for being such an immigration success story himself. Gary Nakamoto likes to sell himself as a philanthropist as he vacuums up all those lucrative government contracts for inspecting and reporting on gulags for migrants.
While the unaccountable profiteers bask in their own self-serving and self-righteous xenophobic glow, here's is the full text of the scathing letter to Jeh Johnson from Madres de Berks:
Dear Jeh Johnson,As the Secretary of Homeland Security, you said last week that you have helped ensure that “the average length of stay at [family detention] facilities is 20 days or less.” We are 22 mothers who have been imprisoned at the Berks County Residential Center, in Leesport, Pa., for 270 to 365 days. We have relatives and friends who would be responsible for us and who wait for us with open arms, but your Department of Homeland Security has denied our release.The reason for this letter is to inform you that on Monday, August 8, we began a hunger strike to protest our indefinite detention, and to request that you end this practice of detaining mothers and children and allow our immediate release.Our children, who range in age from 2 to 16, have been deprived of a normal life. We are already traumatized from our countries of origin. We risked our own lives and those of our children so we could arrive on safe ground. While here, our children have told us they sometimes consider suicide, made desperate from confinement. The teenagers say that being here, life makes no sense. One of our children said he wanted to break the window to jump out and end this nightmare.On many occasions, our children ask us if we have the courage to escape. They grab the chords that hold their ID cards and tighten them around their necks, saying they want to die if they don’t get out. The smallest children, who are only two-years-old, cry during the night because they cannot express what they feel. For some time, our children have not eaten well, and they have lost weight.We left our homes in Central America to escape corruption, threats, and violence. We thought this country would help us, but now we are locked up with our children in a place where we feel threatened, including by some of the medical personnel, leaving us with no one to trust.On Monday, we decided to begin this hunger strike, hoping that our voices will be heard and that we will obtain the liberty from detention that we need so much.
We are desperate, and we have decided that we will get out of here dead or alive.Signed,Mother with 12-year-old son with 365 days in detention.Mother with 12 and 16-year-old daughters with 365 days in detention.Mother with 6-year-old daughter with 365 days in detention.Mother with 6-year-old son with 365 days in detention.Mother with 7-year-old son with 340 days in detention.Mother with 6-year-old son with 335 days in detention.Mother with 15-year-old son with 305 days in detention.Mother with 4-year-old daughter with 304 days in detention.Mother with 9-year-old son with 300 days in detention.Mother with 2-year-old son with 300 days in detention.Mother with 4-year-old daughter with 277 days in detention.Mother with 14-year-old daughter with 276 days in detention.Mother with 7-year-old son with 276 days in detention.Mother with 7-year-old daughter with 271 days in detention.Mother with 2, 8 and 9-year-old children with 270 days in detention.
Mother with 3-year-old son with 270 days in detention.Mother with 6-year-old son with 269 days in detention.Mother with 4-year-old son with 240 days in detention.Mother with 9-year-old daughter with 180 days in detention.Mother with 7-year-old daughter with 120 days in detention.Mother with 14-year-old daughter with 80 days in detention.Mother with 7-year-old son with 60 days in detention.