After President Joe Biden signed three executive orders dealing with immigrant family separation and asylum seekers, activists from Pennsylvania and other states convened Wednesday in Washington D.C.
They called on Biden to do away with another immigration policy: one that keeps immigrant families together, but in detention.
“We’re asking for what seems to me like basic human rights, to not be imprisoned,” said Armando Jimenez, a lead organizer with immigrant advocacy group Make The Road Pennsylvania. “A child three years old, locked up for 10 months, for what — because the child and the parent came to the country seeking a better life, fleeing violence?”
A group of around 100 activists from about 20 different civic groups convened at Freedom Plaza.
A number of groups came from Pennsylvania, in large part because Berks County is home to one of only three family detention centers in the nation. The other two are in Texas.
The Shut Down Berks Coalition, a collection of organizations working to end family detention in Pennsylvania, say asylum-seeking families should be released to live with families or sponsors in the United States.
There are 33 men, women and children detained at the Berks County Residential Center, also known as the Berks Family Residential Center, according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials. There are 433 people held in the South Texas Family Center and 78 in the Karnes County Family Residential Center, according to ICE officials.
All of the groups’ pleas didn’t fall squarely on Biden. They also called on Congress to act. There are already Pennsylvania members of Congress who support ending family detention.
Among them are six Democrats, including Rep. Dwight Evans and Sen. Bob Casey Jr.
Casey said in a January interview that he would push Biden — just as he did with the Trump Administration — to find an alternative to family detention.
“I don’t care whether it’s a Democratic president, someone I have great respect for and as a friend of mine, but we’re going to continue to advocate aggressively and persistently for these families,” Casey said.
Biden’s immigration platform says he wants to “end prolonged detention and reinvest in a case management program,” and in the summer he tweeted that children should be released from detention along with their parents. But his plan does not outright say he plans to no longer detain families.
Civic groups from the commonwealth included Make The Road Pennsylvania, Sunrise Berks, and Free Migration Project. They were joined by the regional advocacy group CASA, and national groups such as the Japanese American Citizens League, Haitian Bridge Alliance, and Church World Service.
One of Biden’s executive orders signed Tuesday established a task force that will try to identify all children separated from their parents at the border under Trump.
The civic groups said they want to see the reunification of all families that were separated by deportation and detention policies, including a right for people who have been deported to return to the United States.
The groups also called for an expedited citizenship path for essential workers and their families, and all 11 million undocumented immigrants.
Biden has proposed an immigration reform bill with an eight-year path to citizenship, which the Congress has not yet taken up. But some aspects of the bill may become law through other bills.
Biden’s immigration policy proposals are facing opposition from groups like the Federation for American Immigration Reform, or FAIR, a nonprofit that promotes conservative positions on immigration.
“The administration’s actions are an endorsement of the unbalanced and failed policy of mass family chain migration that dominates our legal immigration system and applies it to our policy of dealing with illegal immigration and human trafficking,” Dan Stein, president of FAIR, said in a statement this week. “Not only will people who immigrate here legally be entitled to reunite with family members they left behind, now illegal aliens will be able to do the same.
“We all support keeping families united, but there is nothing that says that reunification can only occur in this country,” Stein said.
Paulina Martinez of Chester County is an agriculture worker, an immigrant from Mexico and member of CASA. She accompanied the group on their trip to Washington D.C.
Martinez shared an experience of when immigration agents once entered her home, frightening her family as they searched for someone who had lived there previously.
“My biggest fear as a mother is that more families are going through this same situation that is causing trauma to our children, just for seeking a better life for our loved ones,” Martinez said.
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