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Courts & Justice

Berks County To Detain Asylum-Seeking Immigrant Women For Feds

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Anthony Orozco
/
WITF
From left: County solicitor Christine Sadler, Commissioner Chair Christian Leinbach and Commissioner Michael Rivera at Thursday's meeting.

The Berks County Residential Center, which once held detained families for federal immigration authorities, now will house only female asylum seekers.

Berks County Commissioners voted Thursday to change the county’s long-standing contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Commissioners Michael Rivera and Chair Christian Leinbach voted to amend the county’s agreement with ICE for use of the center, also known as the Berks Family Residential Center.

Commissioner Kevin Barnhardt, the board’s lone Democrat, was absent from the meeting. He has said he opposed using the center to detain women migrants.

The county does not have a timeline for when it will begin receiving women seeking asylum in the United States, according to county spokesperson Stephanie Weaver.

All speakers and messages in the public comment section of the meeting were in opposition to the change, and the detention of immigrants in general. The Shut Down Berks Coalition, a group of civic organizations dedicated to the closure of the center, protested outside the Berks County Services Building during the meeting.

The proposed change was met with vocal opposition from community members and immigrant advocacy groups.

After Leinbach and Rivera voted for the change, some in attendance aired their disappointment, noting that no one from the public came to support it.

“Not a single comment in favor!” one man yelled.Leinabach retorted by saying Berks voters knew he has long supported the center.

“Be seated or leave. … You brought it up, this was an issue in the 2019 campaign. The people of Berks County spoke pretty clearly on this issue,” Leinbach said. “That’s all I’ll say on that.”

The man answered before leaving the meeting.

“They are speaking clearly now, are you listening?” he said.

Leinbach and Rivera defended the center and its workers.

Rivera said the center would have been ordered to be closed if claims made by people who oppose the center were true.

“As Commissioner Leinbach said, had there been any address issues that were not addressed, they would have shut it down a while ago and that has not been the case,” Rivera said.

After Leinbach and Rivera voted for the change, some in attendance aired their disappointment, noting that no one from the public came to support it.

“Not a single comment in favor!” one man yelled.Leinabach retorted by saying Berks voters knew he has long supported the center.

“Be seated or leave. … You brought it up, this was an issue in the 2019 campaign. The people of Berks County spoke pretty clearly on this issue,” Leinbach said. “That’s all I’ll say on that.”

The man answered before leaving the meeting.

“They are speaking clearly now, are you listening?” he said.

Leinbach and Rivera defended the center and its workers.

Rivera said the center would have been ordered to be closed if claims made by people who oppose the center were true.

“As Commissioner Leinbach said, had there been any address issues that were not addressed, they would have shut it down a while ago and that has not been the case,” Rivera said.

After Leinbach and Rivera voted for the change, some in attendance aired their disappointment, noting that no one from the public came to support it.

“Not a single comment in favor!” one man yelled. Leinabach retorted by saying Berks voters knew he has long supported the center.

“Be seated or leave. … You brought it up, this was an issue in the 2019 campaign. The people of Berks County spoke pretty clearly on this issue,” Leinbach said. “That’s all I’ll say on that.”

The man answered before leaving the meeting.

“They are speaking clearly now, are you listening?” he said.

Leinbach and Rivera defended the center and its workers.

Rivera said the center would have been ordered to be closed if claims made by people who oppose the center were true.

“As Commissioner Leinbach said, had there been any address issues that were not addressed, they would have shut it down a while ago and that has not been the case,” Rivera said.