Joining the Call to Shut Down Berks — Dawn Baxter and Pastor Rob Argot

BarrierOn Monday, February 22, Pastor Rob Argot and I, along with about 150 other folks, were present at the rally at the Berks County Residential Center where they are holding immigrant mothers and children who have entered our country seeking asylum.  It was heart-breaking to see these mothers and young children – mothers who have made this difficult journey to protect their children and give them an opportunity for a safer, better life – now being held in a locked facility and shown little compassion. Two of the activists were arrested at the rally for simply crossing the road to talk with these mothers and share hugs with the children!  The center has not allowed outside volunteers to plan activities or interact with the families being held there; even local pastors have been turned away when they request to visit the families.

The families have shared their stories with the attorneys who represent them and some of them are terrified that if they are sent back to their country it will be to almost certain death.  These families have been traumatized in their home countries, traumatized throughout a difficult journey, and then further traumatized when they arrive in the US seeking asylum and refuge when we lock them in a secure facility for an indeterminate length of time.  Families are often held for months.  Some families with young children have been detained for more than a year!

A federal judge has ruled that family detention is illegal. The state of PA has confirmed that there is no valid license to operate this secure facility. Imprisoning refugee/asylum seeking mothers and children is wrong;  family detention is unnecessary and immoral.  Congress has called for the end to family detention. Human Rights groups have called for the end to family detention. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Bar Association have called for the end to family detention.  Churches have joined together to call for an end to family detention.

It is time to close these detention centers.  SHUT DOWN BERKS!

Dawn Baxter

Director, West Berks Mission District


And some thoughts from Pastor Rob Argot…

As I stood at the Family Detention Center here in Berks County, I had two thoughts.  The first thought was one of ignorance.  A year ago I saw a job posting for chaplain at the Family Detention Center.  Silly me, I thought it was a politically correct substitute name for the prison.  It never occurred to me (hence ignorance) that we had a facility here that actually imprisoned family units.  Many times each week I would drive within two miles of this place.  My son goes to school 1.2 miles away, according to online maps.  Ignorant that this place exists, ignorant about the stories of the families who are kept here, ignorant of the unfair conditions they live with, and yes, ignorant of what my own role in this story should be.

Then comes the second thought…one I cannot label…it is a strange mixture of frustration and relief at the same time.  Frustrated that these people are being forced to live this way, relief that my mother wasn’t.  Oh, you don’t know?  My mother was an immigrant.  As a child she came over from another country (does it matter which one) with which America had been at war.  She came not knowing any English, not having a father.  I am relieved that my mother, my aunt, and my grandmother did not have to spend time in a Family Detention Center, and yet I am frustrated that these families do.  What makes them any different?  Why shouldn’t they have the same opportunities my family had when they came over on a boat to America?  What would my life be like if they had to go through then what these families are going through now? There must be….no…there is a better option for these families, and they must be given such an option.

See coverage of the protest here.

Read more about legal battle over the Berks Center.



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