Lutheran Advocates Join Vigil for Detained Families at Berks

Immigrant mothers held with their children at Berks County’s detention facility were supported by prayer at an interfaith vigil outside the facility after the mothers protested by going on a hunger strike.  Lutheran advocates were among those from around the commonwealth and the country who stood in prayer and protest outside the residential center the evening of Sept. 6.  Read reflections from a witness from Lower Susquehanna Synod’s Communities of Hope, a member of Zion Lutheran in York.

Read coverage of the vigil.  Most of the families in the detention center have relatives in the United States to whom they could be released while their request for asylum is pending, according to attorneys working with the women.  For those who do not, religious organizations have offered to take them in.   The Pa. Department of Human Services revoked the center’s license in February, stating that it was not licensed for detaining families.  Immigration and Customs Enforcement appealed the action, and remains open pending a ruling.

The Rev. Linda Orsen Theophilus,of Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Pittsburgh, who attended the vigil, offered this account:

“Mother and four year old daughter held for 360 days” I read as I lit one of the candles for the mothers on the hunger strike.   She was likely in the group across the two fences, too far to see clearly but close enough to hear when we all sang together.   I had to concentrate to keep my voice strong and clear; I was at the edge of tears.

Twenty two mothers have participated in a hunger strike to draw attention to poor medical attention, the emotional distress to their children and the length of detention.  Everyone on the hunger strike has been held for at least 90 days.  By now, it is over a year for “my mother and daughter.”   Unless some of these mothers and her children has been released, the one year mark has passed for eight or more of these families.  Berks holds approximately 100 parents and children (birth to age 17).  When you include the non-striking parents, how many have been held for over a year?

As Patrick, an asylum seeker from the Congo whom I met in 1998 said to the late Sen. Arlen Specters aide, soon after his release from three years in immigration detention, “I understand the need to make sure someone is who he says he is, but should it take that long?”

LAMPa will continue to connect Lutherans with interfaith efforts to assist these families. If you want to help, contact us here.





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