In protest of their families’ ongoing and prolonged detention in the Berks County Residential Center, a group of mothers began a hunger strike on Monday, August 8. They penned a letter to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson explaining why:

We left our homes in Central America to escape corruption, threats, and violence. We thought this country would help us, but now we are locked up with our children in a place where we feel threatened, including by some of the medical personnel, leaving us with no one to trust.

On Monday, we decided to begin this hunger strike, hoping that our voices will be heard and that we will obtain the liberty from detention that we need so much.

We are desperate, and we have decided that we will get out of here dead or alive.

The twenty-two mothers, known as “Madres Berks”, all signed the letter and are part of the fast. The mothers note they have been held in the detention facility far beyond the “20 days or less” that the Secretary said just last week is the norm. In fact, some mothers have been held for more than 300 days with their children.

The letter also describes their concerns for their children who are detained with them and who range in age from 2 to sixteen.

On many occasions, our children ask us if we have the courage to escape. They grab the chords that hold their ID cards and tighten them around their necks, saying they want to die if they don’t get out. The smallest children, who are only two-years-old, cry during the night because they cannot express what they feel. For some time, our children have not eaten well, and they have lost weight.

Also deeply concerning is the fact that the Berk’s facility actually lost its state license in February, but has been allowed to keep operating during the appeals process. The revocation came as no surprise considering the gross human rights violations taking place in the facility including inadequate medical care and even the rape of a female detainee by a guard.

This is not the first hunger-strike by Central American mothers held in family detention facilities; a similar one took place last year at the Dilley Family Detention Center.

These mothers along with their children have come to the U.S. in search of safety and refuge. The fact that instead of compassion they have been met with prolonged detention and substandard living conditions is a huge blemish on the current Administration and our nation’s laws and history.

Photo by Flood G.

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