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Children in the Berks Immigration Center are like any other children; they also write letters to Santa

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Children in the Berks Immigration Center are like any other children; they also write letters to Santa

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On June 24, 2014, in response to the increasing number of children and families fleeing Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador to seek protection at the U.S. border, the Obama Administration announced plans to significantly increase capacity to detain children with their parents. In testimony before Congress, Secretary Johnson proposed “an aggressive deterrence strategy,” including the rapid expansion of family detention, which would send a message to adults who brought their children with them: “we will send you back.” DHS quickly erected a 700-bed detention facility in Artesia, New Mexico, which was later closed. It repurposed and expanded a detention facility in Karnes County, Texas, which holds up to 532 individuals, and erected the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, Texas, which has a capacity of 2,400 individuals. The Berks County Residential Center, located in Leesport, Pennsylvania, has capacity to detain 96 individuals. This family detention policy comes at a high cost to taxpayers. Over the course of a year, family detention could cost more than $400 million. A cost that continues to grow.

The Guardian Newspaper asked children between the ages of two and nine to write a letter to Santa with their Christmas wish list. Many listed items such as Disney Character toys, Remote control airplanes, or a computer; normal Santa Letter items. All of them listed one more thing: To get out of Berks and have their liberty back to see their family.

Of the children in Berks this holiday season this is the second Christmas that nineteen children will celebrate behind bars. In October 2015, Human Rights First published a study explaining the detrimental effect of Family Detentions like Berks. “Studies have revealed the damage caused by prolonged incarceration to children. … harm can set in within the first two weeks of lockup, let alone years. Among the well-documented symptoms are PTSD, depression and suicidal thoughts – all of which have been recorded by psychologists examining the Berks children.”

In September 2014, I volunteered as a pro bono attorney in the Artesia, NM Family Detention Center. I saw firsthand how hard being behind bars can be for children. I saw two years old babies that stopped walking and reverted back to infant crawling. Children that lost 7-10 pounds, or almost 25{b6b8f04f7bd4b863c4cfed8339fd19419bda3e071c79bc5ac8c810cb9c52e30f} of their body weight because of stress. Children having daily nightmares because they were scared that they were going to be returned to the country their family so desperately fleed. Children that stopped eating.

The US government claims that these are family residential facilities but with the barbwire and the armed guards it is no wonder that these children want their freedom.

I believe that the U.S. Government could do so much better with the taxpayers’ money and give these kids their Christmas wish; all while still keeping our country save.

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