Punitive?

Immigrant mothers go on hunger strike at Pennsylvania detention center after year in custody

Protesters in Martha's Vineyard (where President Obama is vacationing) are calling for the release of 22 Central American hunger-striking mothers held for up to one year at the Berks County Residential Center in Pennsylvania. (NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)

A group of 26 female immigrants who are detained along with their children at Berks County Residential Center in Pennsylvania have entered a hunger strike to protest the fact that they have spent close to a year in custody at the facility, despite claims by the U.S. government that families can only be detained for a maximum of 20 days. “On many occasions our children have thought about suicide because of the confinement and desperation that is caused by being here,” 22 of those mothers wrote in an open letter to  Department of Homeland Security secretary Jeh Johnson. They argue that the government is making false arguments, as Johnson has claimed that families are detained for “20 days or less,” in correspondence with the maximum time that children can be detained suggested by a federal order.

It is not clear why these detainees have not been released, as the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency said they are not allowed to discuss specific cases due to privacy concerns. However, 28 families held at the center — fleeing violence in El Salvador, Guatemala or Honduras — had won a stay of removal last year after the American Civil Liberties Union helped them fight their cases when they had been denied asylum. The ACLU argued that the families had a right to a federal judge reviewing their asylum hearings. While their cases are pending in the judicial system, they have not been released from custody. “It is becoming increasingly hard to conclude that there is not some punitive element to keeping these women in detention simply because they exercised their right to bring a constitutional test case,” said Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project.

Read the full story at The Guardian.


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