(The Berks County Residential Center located in Leesport, Pennsylvania.)
Women at a Pennsylvania residential center housing undocumented immigrants are on hunger strike to call attention to the slow mechanisms of government authorities in dealing with their cases.
The Berks County Residential Center is home to three families that have been housed at the facility for over a year. The maximum amount of time suggested by law that undocumented immigrants can be housed before transferral is 20 days – a timeframe that the Obama Administration claims is upheld by US Immigrant and Customs Enforcement (ICE). As evidenced by the cases in Pennsylvania, however, this norm is obviously broken with some regularity.
The center houses dozens of women and their children – many from Central America – who claim to have fled violence in their home countries in the hopes of securing a better life.
In a letter signed by 22 women held at the Berks County Residential Center, the psychological toll on their children is thrown into sharp relief:
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 considered committing 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.
Advocates working on behalf of the undocumented immigrants believe as many as 26 women are participating in the hunger strike, which is now entering its second week. You can read the full letter signed by the strikers here.
US authorities have received criticism in the past for brutal detention centers and questionable practices that infringe on undocumented immigrants’ human rights.
The Tap will have more as the strike in Pennsylvania continues.