Tsuru for Solidarity and other members of the Shut Down Berks Coalition will be holding a direct action outside of the Berks Family Detention Center, one of three detention facilities in the country that contracts with ICE to hold families with young children. Since it opened in 2011, children as young as 3-months-old have been imprisoned there, and at least one woman was sexually assaulted by a guard.

On July 17, 2020 10:00am EDT – 10:00pm EDT
1040 Berks Road, Berks Family Residential Center in Leesport, Pennsylvania

On June 26th, Judge Gee ruled that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) must release children from all three family detention centers by July 17th due to COVD-19 risks. Instead, Berks is bringing in new families, furthering exposing them to this deadly pandemic. There is no indication that Berks will release these families, the majority of whom are Black and Brown immigrants, and are illegally incarcerating them. Berks continues to ruthlessly detain families while ignoring the unsanitary and unsafe conditions at the Berks Detention Center — conditions that have been reported by families detained at Berks.

A father, G.S.C., detained at Berks submitted in a sworn statement that, “Inside the facility, no one wears gloves or masks. We never had any meeting with any of the staff explaining what the situation regarding COVID-19 is, we only learn what is going on from the TV news. On the TV there seems to be a lot of panic and concern, great steps being taken, but not here in the facility.”

Another detained father P.M. shared in his statement that “My daughter is not the only one who is sick at the facility. All of the families that have come and left have not been feeling well. Last week, one of the other men drank the milk they serve in the fridge. He started having rashes and big swollen bumps all over his body. At the same time, my own child started coughing blood after drinking the same milk. We looked at the carton and the milk ere expired. The staff were not concerned about this at all.”

The action on July 17th will center Black voices, specifically those of Haitian descent, calling attention to the unjust incarceration and erasure of Black immigrants in our fight against racist, violent immigration policies and targeting by ICE. The program for this protest will consist of a vigil, several speakers from Haitian, Latinx, Japanese American and other allied communities, musical performances and more. Tsuru for Solidarity will also bring strings of Tsuru (cranes) to carry and honor their ancestors as part of the protest. View event details here. Tsuru for Solidarity’s programming will be from 11:30am – 1:30 pm.

Japanese American history provides ample evidence that detention facilities are breeding grounds for the spread of disease and infection. Outbreaks in World War II US concentration camps included a polio epidemic at Amache; dysentery, mumps, and valley fever at Gila River; and measles and chicken pox at Tule Lake, just to name a few of the rampant health concerns detainees had to contend with. Poorly equipped hospitals and inadequate medical staff only exacerbated these problems, and made them even more deadly for those who were afflicted. Imprisoning individuals in such conditions was inhumane then, and it is inhumane now.

“In addition to the imminent danger that COVID-19 poses for immigrant families, they will carry traumatic experiences from living in detention throughout their lives” says Rob Buscher, Tsuru for Solidarity Steering Committee member and the President of Japanese American Citizens League Philadelphia Chapter. “As descendants of Japanese American incarceration survivors, we understand ongoing effects of intergenerational trauma three generations later. We are committed to ending immigrant detention with the hope that other communities may be spared from these experiences, and we intend to be the allies that our own community needed during World War II. We stand with Black and Brown immigrant communities in Berks. We demand that Governor Wolf respect Black lives and issue an Emergency Removal Order, and we call on the Berks County Commissioners to cancel their contract with ICE.”

Tsuru for Solidarity (tsuruforsolidarity.org) is a nonviolent, direct action project of Japanese American advocates working to end detention sites and support front-line immigrant and refugee communities being targeted by racist, inhumane immigration policies. We stand on the moral authority of Japanese Americans who suffered great injustices in U.S. concentration camps during WWII, and we say, “Stop Repeating History!”