Berks County Residential Center

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Berks County Residential Center
Location1040 Berks Road
Bern Township
Berks County, Pennsylvania
Security classImmigration detention facility
Managed byBerks County, Pennsylvania

Berks County Residential Center (BCRC), also known as Berks Family Residential Center and as the Berks County detention center, is a 96-bed immigration detention center in Leesport, Berks County, Pennsylvania, operated by Berks County on contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).[1][2] The center operated as a family detention center from March 2001[3][4][5][6] to March 2021.[7][8]


In August 1994, Berks County started renting out detention center space at its youth detention center to the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), the predecessor to ICE, to house juvenile immigration detainees. An article about the subject quoted Theodore Nordmark, assistant director of the INS, noting that the location of the detention center was convenient for him from his Philadelphia office, and suggested the convenient location was one reason for choosing Berks County.[3] The housing of detainees was estimated by the county to be profitable, even after accounting for their education expenses.[3] By May 3, 2000, constructing of a new building was planned, and Berks County was in discussions with INS to house families.[3] On March 3, 2001, the Berks County Residential Center opened for use by INS for family immigration detention.[3][5][4]

In January 2016, the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services (PA DHS) issued notice that the licensing of the Berks County Residential Center to operate as a child detention facility is being revoked and will not be renewed.[9][10][11] The decision was appealed in February;[12] PA DHS would issue reports of violations to the Berks County Residential Center in the years from 2016 to 2018.[13]

In March 2021, ICE announced that no families were being detained at the Berks County Residential Center, and that the detention center will no longer be used for family detention. There were plans to repurpose it for adult detention.[7][8] Later in the month, a lawsuit was filed by the Sheller Center for Social Justice at Temple University Law School against Berks County commissioners Christian Leinbach, Kevin Barnhardt, and Michael Rivera, claiming that Berks County commissioners have been talking to ICE about converting the facility into an immigrant women's prison but have refused to make any material public.[14]


The Berks County detention center has been the subject of repeated controversy and criticism.

In 2016, a former guard at the Berks County Residential Center pled guilty to and was sentenced for repeatedly sexually assaulting a 19-year-old detainee from Honduras in 2014.[15][16] In January 2020, Berks County settled, for $75,000, a related lawsuit brought by the victim against it for allowing the assault to happen.[17]

In August 2016, 22 female detainees at Berks County Residential Center (a group calling themselves "Madres de Berks") went on hunger strike to protest the length and conditions of their detention. Their statement says that they have been detained for 270 to 365 days, well above the "20 days or less" that then-DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson claimed is the average length of stay in family detention.[18][19]

Activists, officials, and legislators have called for the shutting down of the detention center many times.[20][21][22][23][24][25] On September 25, 2021, 100 people turned up for a rally at Independence Mall seeking for the detention center to be shut down rather than reopened as a facility for adult women.[26][27]


  1. ^ "Berks Family Residential Center: Philadelphia Field Office". Retrieved December 19, 2021.
  2. ^ "Berks County Residential Center". County of Berks. Retrieved December 19, 2021.
  3. ^ a b c d e Moyer, Merriell (June 16, 2017). "Why a PA county houses Central American immigrant families". Lebanon Daily News. Retrieved July 4, 2021.
  4. ^ a b Shuey, Karen; Mekeel, David; Orozco, Anthony (June 24, 2018). "What you need to know about the residential center holding immigrant families in Berks County". Reading Eagle. Retrieved July 4, 2021.
  5. ^ a b Deppen, Colin; Hughes, Sarah Ann (June 22, 2018). "Why PA's controversial Berks detention center for immigrant families is still open. A chorus of legislators and Philadelphia City Council are calling for the facility's closure, as pressure mounts on Gov. Tom Wolf". BillyPenn. Retrieved July 4, 2021.
  6. ^ Orozco, Anthony (March 31, 2021). "Lawyers, civic groups keep the pressure on Berks Family Residential Center". WHYY. Retrieved July 4, 2021.
  7. ^ a b Hall, Peter (March 3, 2021). "Last family released from Berks County immigration detention center". The Morning Call. Retrieved December 18, 2021.
  8. ^ a b Merchant, Nomaan (March 6, 2021). "US Says It Will Stop Using Berks Co. Detention Center to Hold Migrant Families. The detention center in Pennsylvania will instead be used by ICE to hold adults, the government said". NBC Philadelphia. Retrieved December 18, 2021.
  9. ^ "The Department of Human Services is not renewing the certificate of compliance issued to the Berks County Commissioners to operate the Berks County Residential Center as a child residential facility" (PDF). Pennsylvania Department of Human Services. January 27, 2016. Retrieved July 4, 2021.
  10. ^ "Pennsylvania's legal authority to shut down Berks Family Detention Center". Center for Social Justice, Temple University Beasley School of Law. October 31, 2017. Retrieved July 4, 2021.
  11. ^ "State won't renew license of Berks County Residential Center". Reading Eagle. January 30, 2016. Retrieved December 18, 2021.
  12. ^ "This is to acknowledge receipt of your request to appeal the Department's decision to NON-RENEW and REVOKE the license for Berks County Residential Center" (PDF). Pennsylvania Department of Human Services. February 8, 2016. Retrieved July 4, 2021.
  13. ^ "Inspection/Violation Reports for BERKS COUNTY RESIDENTIAL CENTER". Pennsylvania Department of Human Services. Retrieved July 4, 2021.
  14. ^ Gammage, Jeff (March 30, 2021). "Immigration activists sue Berks commissioners to learn plans for ICE detention center. In March the center was emptied without explanation of the immigrant families it confined for two decades". The Philadelphia Inquirer. Retrieved December 18, 2021.
  15. ^ Weaver, Stephanie (April 15, 2016). "West Reading man sentenced for sex with detainee". Reading Eagle. Retrieved December 18, 2021.
  16. ^ Harris, Lindsay (April 15, 2016). "Berks Detention Center Employee Convicted of Sexual Assault of Young Honduran Mother". Immigration Impact. Retrieved December 18, 2021.
  17. ^ Hall, Peter (January 23, 2020). "Berks County will pay $75,000 to refugee who says she was sexually assaulted by worker at immigration center". The Morning Call. Retrieved December 18, 2021.
  18. ^ Madres de Berks (August 12, 2016). "Mothers to Homeland Security: We Won't Eat Until We Are Released". New York Times. Retrieved December 18, 2021.
  19. ^ Feliz, Wendy (August 15, 2016). "Why 22 Mothers Are On a Hunger Strike at the Berks Family Detention Facility". Immigration Impact. Retrieved December 18, 2021.
  20. ^ "Re: Terminate ICE contract at the Berks County Residential Center" (PDF). July 28, 2021. Retrieved December 18, 2021.
  21. ^ Sweitzer, Justin (July 29, 2021). "Democrats urge feds to shut down Berks County immigration facility". City & State Pennsylvania. Retrieved December 18, 2021.
  22. ^ "Congresswoman Madeleine Dean Leads a Letter to Terminate ICE contract at the Berks County Residential Center". October 5, 2021. Retrieved December 18, 2021.
  23. ^ Sholtis, Brett (December 11, 2019). "'Confinement and desperation' at Berks County immigrant detention center detailed in auditor general's report. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has twice denied requests to tour the Berks County Residential Center, where people are being kept for months while they await administrative hearings". WITF. Retrieved December 18, 2021.
  24. ^ Torres-Garcia, Adrianna (September 27, 2021). "It's time to close immigrant detention centers for good, not expand them. The move to expand a Berks County detention center is being driven by the Biden administration as part of their overall immigration plan, despite campaign promises to the contrary". The Philadelphia Inquirer. Retrieved December 18, 2021.
  25. ^ Rivera, Jasmine (September 29, 2021). "Opinion: It's time to permanently close Berks County's immigrant detention center. "As we speak, the Biden administration is pushing to turn the Berks County family prison into a women's prison," says guest columnist Jasmine Rivera". Generocity. Retrieved December 18, 2021.
  26. ^ Whelan, Aubrey (September 25, 2021). "At Independence Hall, activists call for end of ICE contract and the plan for a women's prison. "We believe that no one should be incarcerated for being a migrant," said Adrianna Torres-Garcia, of the Free Migration Project". The Philadelphia Inquirer. Retrieved December 18, 2021.
  27. ^ Campos-Sánchez, Rodrigo (October 5, 2021). "The Center on Immigration joins the fight to shut down Berks and to support Haitian immigrants". Retrieved December 18, 2021.

Coordinates: 40°22′46″N 76°00′57″W / 40.37944°N 76.01583°W / 40.37944; -76.01583