Berks County may stop housing illegal aliens
Shutting family center would cost 50 jobs; county doesn't profit from running Bern facility
By Holly Herman
While federal officials are planning to move families seeking American citizenship from a Texas detention center that is closing to a Berks County shelter, the county commissioners are considering getting out of the alien-housing business.
The Family Center in Bern Township is the only other facility in the country that houses families awaiting hearings or the results of hearings on requests to stay in the U.S.
But with tight economic times, the Berks County commissioners may end up closing the Bern Township center, which opened in 2001.
So far, no definite plans have been made to shut down the 84-bed center housing detained immigrant families captured at the borders and in other places.
Closing the facility would mean the loss of 50 county jobs, officials said.
But the county isn't profiting from the money the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement service pays the county for housing the detainees .
"At the initial stages we were permitted to make a profit, but now we are breaking even on it," Commissioner Chairman Mark C. Scott said. "We have been helpful to the federal government for a decade.
"Everything is on the table in terms of cost cutting. We are in the process of shrinking county government," Scott said.
The center, which generates more than $3 million in income annually for the county, costs $5.6 million a year to operate.
It's' paid for by the federal government and staffed by the county.
ICE officials said the 512-bed T. Don Hutto Family Residential Facility in Taylor, Texas, is expected to close in December.
ICE has been reviewing cases of 127 men, women and children residing in the facility since plans to close it were disclosed on Aug. 6.
"We are working on a case-by-case basis to determine if the families will be moved to Berks," said ICE spokeswoman Gillian M. Brigham.
So far, no detainees have been sent to Berks from the Texas facility.
Brigham said that some families will go through the immigration legal proceedings and be deported.
She said others might be released into the community to await hearings. Some of the families are seeking citizenship, some want asylum. ICE hearings will establish their legal status. Others are awaiting deportation.
Brigham said the bulk of illegal immigrants come to this country alone.
The goal of the shelter program, when it started in 2001, was to keep families together while they are being detained.
Kenneth C. Borkey Jr., executive director of the Berks shelter, said ICE officials notified him of the planned move but have not requested additional bed space.
Borkey said he has prepared a report on the availability of additional space if such a request is made.
Borkey said the center could be expanded to include 12 to 18 beds without additional renovations.
When the Berks center opened in March 2001, the federal government was paying the county $3.6 million for housing families in a renovated wing of Berks Heim, the county nursing home.
The county paid $280,000 for the renovations.
In 2004, new federal regulations prohibited governmental agencies from making a profit by providing service programs.
Subsequently, the county is no longer profiting from providing the services.
The county is receiving $144,000 to rent office space to federal employees using the program.
Scott, who was a commissioner when the program started, said that initially the program was a money maker.
"When we started this program, we were helping the federal government," he said. "Before this program, they were spending more money on housing families in hotels."
Scott said that he supports helping the federal government, but is more concerned about the economic impact on the county.
"It's our patriotic duty to help the federal government," he said. "But it's not a financial boon. Do we continue to tolerate this moving forward? The question we must consider is whether we can find another tenant."
Commissioner Kevin S. Barnhardt said he does not support expanding the program.
"We are talking about whether we want to continue the program," he said. "When the federal government said it was considering transferring people to Berks, it was a shock."
Barnhardt said the downside to closing the program is losing county jobs.
Commissioner Christian Y. Leinbach said that if the county were losing money on this it would be his priority to cut the program.
"We are breaking even," he said. "There are no plans to shut it down, but we are looking at it from a financial point of view."
The facility provides computer linkup services with immigration courts in York County.
The shelter provides medical and dental care. And it provides education classes and athletic activities for children.
Berks County was selected as the site in 2000 because of its excellent working relationship with the federal government when it was housing illegal aliens in the county jail.
That program is being phased out because of overcrowding conditions in the county prison.
Contact Holly Herman: 610-478-6291 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Friday, August 21, 2009
Berks County Considering End of Family Detention Contract
Those of us seeking an end to family detention might welcome this news, but there's an insidious subtext to this discussion: county governments and private prisons corporations alike seek to profit on the imprisonment of human beings. That is, there is a monetary incentive to expanding imprisonment and detention that has nothing to do with making good policy, fighting crime, or enforcing immigration law. When there's an incentive to imprison, the goals of our criminal justice and immigration detention systems are grossly out of perspective.
Posted by TUFF Coalition