• Open Letter in Response to the Closing of the Berks County Family Shelter Care Center and Solicitation of New Family Detention Beds

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    Attention John Morton, Director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement:

    In November of 2011, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced that the Berks County Family Shelter Care Center in Pennsylvania will be closing. The Obama Administration took positive steps in rolling back family detention in 2009 by releasing families from the T. Don Hutto Family Residential Facility in Taylor, Texas, and canceling a solicitation for three new family detention centers. The closure of the Berks facility is an excellent opportunity for the administration to continue to demonstrate its commitment to detention system reform by ending the practice of detaining families.

    In late November ICE issued a solicitation for new family detention beds in Texas. Because families and children require specialized educational, medical, and legal support, family detention in closed facilities is both inappropriate and imposes a significant financial cost on the federal government. The Performance Work Statement issued in November calls for a shelter-like, non-penal setting that is appropriate for families with young children. 

    We applaud ICE’s acknowledgement that a traditional detention setting is inappropriate for this population.  In fact, detaining families departs from ICE’s current enforcement priorities. Congress has repeatedly expressed its preference for release over family detention. The 2005 House Committee on Appropriations Report (H. Rep. 109-79) accompanying the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Appropriations Act, 2006, maintained that “[t]he Committee expects DHS to release families or use alternatives to detention…whenever possible.” Congress further opposed the use of family detention centers one year later in the 2006 House Committee on Appropriations Report (H. Rep. 109-476) accompanying the 2007 DHS appropriations bill: 

    "The Committee encourages ICE to work with reputable non-profit organizations to consider allowing family units to participate in the Intensive Supervision Appearance Program, where appropriate, or, if detention is necessary, to house these families together in non-penal homelike environments until the conclusion of their immigration proceedings."

    We call on the administration to prioritize release of immigrant families in all cases. We urge the administration to assign social workers to manage families’ cases rather than placing them in detention. For families without housing, the administration should partner with non-profit shelter or child welfare organizations experienced in supporting asylum-seeking and immigrant families to resolve any issues preventing the direct release of families. Social workers with proven track records providing family and child welfare services offer the only appropriate expertise for supporting families in civil immigration proceedings.

    For questions or to follow-up to this letter, please contact Bob Libal at Grassroots Leadership at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or (512) 971-0487 or Michelle Brané at the Women’s Refugee Committee at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or (646) 717-7191.

    Signed by the following organizations:

    National organizations

    American Civil Liberties Union

    America’s Voice Education Fund

    Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc.

    Center for Constitutional Rights

    Detention Watch Network


    Grassroots Leadership

    Human Rights First

    Human Rights Defense Center

    Justice Strategies

    Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services

    National Day Laborer Organizing Network

    National Immigration Forum

    National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health

    Religious Institute

    Rights Working Group

    Southern Poverty Law Center

    United Methodist Church, General Board of Church and Society

    Women's Refugee Commission

    Local & State organizations

    All of Us or None, San Francisco, CA 

    American Gateways, Austin, TX

    ACLU of Texas

    The Advocates for Human Rights, Minnesota

    Americans for Immigrant Justice (formerly Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center), Miami, FL

    Austin Immigrant Rights Coalition

    Austin Tan Cera de la Frontera

    Border Network for Human Rights, El Paso, Texas

    Casa Esperanza, Plainfield & Bound Brook, NJ

    Casa Guadalupana Catholic Worker, St. Paul, MN

    Coalition of Latino Leaders-CLILA, Dalton, GA

    Cobb Immigrant Alliance, Cobb County, Georiga

    Community to Community Development, Bellingham, Washington

    Central American Resource Center (CRECEN), Houston, TX

    Detention Dialogues, Berkeley, California

    FaithAction International House, Greensboro, NC

    Families for Freedom, New York, NY

    Florida Immigrant Coalition

    Florida Coastal School of Law Immigrant Rights Clinic

    Georgia Detention Watch

    Houston Peace and Justice Center

    Houston United/Unidos

    Human Rights Law Society at the University of Texas School of Law

    Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights

    Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project, Portland, ME

    Interfaith Alliance of Colorado

    Interfaith Coalition on Immigration, Minnesota

    The Interfaith Center of New York

    IRATE & First Friends, Elizabeth, NJ

    Jesuit Social Research Institute/Loyola University New Orleans, Louisiana

    Jewish Community Action, St. Paul, MN

    Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, San Francisco, CA.

    NC Immigrant Rights Project 

    New Sanctuary Coalition of New York City

    No More Deaths, Tuscon, AZ

    Peace with Justice Committee of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Minneapolis, MN

    People Organizing in Defense of the Earth and her Resources, Austin, TX

    Political Asylum/Immigration Representation Project, Boston, MA

    Reformed Church of Highland Park, NJ

    Reform Immigration for Texas Alliance

    San Antonio Immigrant Youth Movement

    Social Justice Guild of the First Existentialist Congregation of Atlanta

    Texas Civil Rights Project

    Texas Criminal Justice Coalition

    Texas Dream Alliance

    Texas Indigenous Council

    Texas Jail Project

    University Leadership Initiative, Austin, TX

    Who is My Neighbor, Inc., Highland Park, NJ

    WilCo Justice Alliance, Williamson County, Texas