ICE Considers Using Berks Family Center in Pennsylvania to Process Immigrants


What to Know

  • A spokesperson for ICE told NBC10 they are now considering using the Berks Family Residential Center in Leesport, Pennsylvania, as a possible location to process immigrants who illegally crossed the border in search of asylum. 
  • The statement comes a month after ICE officials announced parents and children seeking asylum would no longer be held at the center as part of a broader shift by President Joe Biden’s administration to reduce the use of family detention.
  • A final decision has not been made and currently no one is in custody at the Berks Center, according to the spokesperson.

A month after announcing they would no longer hold migrant families at the Berks Family Residential Center in Pennsylvania, U.S. immigration authorities say they are now considering using the center as a possible location to process immigrants who illegally crossed the border in search of asylum. 

“In order to humanely address the current situation along the Southwest Border, ICE continues to evaluate the manner in which it utilizes its existing family residential center…to safely, effectively, and efficiently process and screen families,” a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) spokesperson told NBC10 on Wednesday. 

The spokesperson said the 96-bed center, located in Leesport, Pennsylvania, remains fully operational though no one is currently in custody.

“The Department continues to utilize all available authorities and processes, including the expulsion of individuals apprehended at the border pursuant to CDC authority, to address the ongoing public health challenges,” the spokesperson wrote. “These expulsions may be effected from either CBP or ICE facilities.” 

A final decision has not been made, the spokesperson said.

Last month, ICE officials said parents and children seeking asylum would no longer be held at the center as part of a broader shift by President Joe Biden’s administration to reduce the use of family detention.

In a court filing on March 5, the U.S. government said it had released all families detained at the Berks Center and that it would instead be used by ICE to hold adults. Families would still be detained at larger detention centers in Karnes City and Dilley in Texas, but the government intended to hold people at those sites for three days or less, the court filing said.

Armando Jimenez-Carbarin, an organizer for the Allentown-based Latino advocacy group Make the Road Pa., criticized both ICE and Berks County officials while speaking with Telemundo62 on Wednesday. 

“To think that the Berks County Commissioners are working with ICE and they are doing it behind closed doors, they aren’t making it public, is something our members are saying is something they don’t want,” he said. 

All three family detention centers opened when Biden was vice president to President Barack Obama. While running for president, Biden pledged to release detained families.

The Biden administration has already released several families seeking asylum who had been detained for a year or longer in Texas and in some cases came within hours of deportation. Those families will pursue their cases while remaining subject to ICE monitoring.

In his early days, Biden has confronted increasing numbers of families and unaccompanied children crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, leading to shortages of space in Border Patrol holding cells and long-term facilities for children operated by Health and Human Services. In the case of the Border Patrol, hundreds of children have recently been detained longer than 72 hours, the general limit set by the agency’s standards.

Biden stopped the practice initiated by former President Donald Trump of expelling unaccompanied immigrant children under public health authority. Officials expelled thousands of children to their countries of origin without giving them a chance to seek asylum or other protections under federal law.

The Biden administration continues to expel immigrant families and adults.