The following is an open letter of demand to Jeh Johnson written by 22 mothers detained at Berks Family Residential Center:
The reason for this letter of demands is to make it known to you that since Monday August 8th we have started an “INDEFINITE HUNGER STRIKE.”
The Immigration Department has made a public announcement stating that in family detention center parents and children are detained no longer than 20 days.
WE WANT TO DISPROVE THIS INFORMATION!!
We are 22 mothers who are detained at Berks Family Residential Center, being mothers who have been from 270 days to 365 days in detention with children ages 2 to 16 years old, depriving them of having a normal life, knowing that we have prior traumas from our countries, risking our own lives and that of our children on the way until we arrived here, having family and friends who would be responsible for us and who are waiting for us with open arms and that immigration refuses to let us out.
Seeing these injustices, we have decided to go on an indefinite hunger strike until we obtain our immediate freedom because all of us left our countries of origin fleeing violence, threats and corruption that not even the government of each of our countries in Central America can control.
On many occasions our children have thought about SUICIDE because of the confinement and desperation that is caused by being here. The teenagers say BEING HERE, LIFE MAKES NO SENSE, THAT THEY WOULD LIKE TO BREAK THE WINDOW TO JUMP OUT AND END THIS NIGHTMARE, and on many occasions they ask us if we have the courage to escape.
Other kids grab their IDs and tighten them around their necks and say that they are going to KILL themselves if they don’t get out of here. The youngest kids (2 years old) cry at night for not being able to express what they feel. For a long time, the children have not been eating well, but they have never paid attention to our complaints about the food until now.
We are desperate and we have decided that: WE WILL GET OUT ALIVE OR DEAD.
If it is necessary to sacrifice our lives so that our children can have freedom: WE WILL DO IT! Putting aside the threats we are receiving from one of the psychologists and some doctors in this facility.
We are calling on the government to take action on this matter and open their eyes, letting them know that IMMIGRATION is acting against the law and is mocking them, making arguments that are false; besides our children are entitled to freedom according to the case of Flores, and still they are here with us.
We hope that our voices are heard, so that we can have the FREEDOM that we NEED so much.
The following call to arms is via immigration lawyer Carol Anne Mauer Donohoe:
HEY! Everyone who pretends to, or actually does, care about the fact that our government has imprisoned mothers and children who have committed no crime but to ASK FOR SAFETY, here’s your chance to actually DO SOMETHING. Call Field Office Director Thomas Decker at 215-656-7164 and tell him to release these families. Call your spineless Berks County Commissioners at 610-478-6136 and ask why they’re spending our tax dollars to make this suffering continue. Email Ted Dallas from the PA Department of Human Services, in charge of the WELFARE OF CHILDREN in the Commonwealth and ask why they are allowing the refugee prison to remain open even though the license has been revoked at email@example.com.
UPDATE, August 24, 2016: According to Democracy Now!, the mothers have suspended the hunger strike, saying that there were being threatened by officials at Berks.
Matthew Kolken is an immigration lawyer and the managing partner of Kolken & Kolken, located in Buffalo, New York. His legal opinions and analysis are regularly solicited by various news sources, including MSNBC, CNN, Fox News, The Washington Post, Forbes Magazine, and The Los Angeles Times, among others. You can follow him @.