Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon says immigrant detention center violates spirit of Biden Executive Order, calls to halt expansion
The ICE facility in Moshannon is the largest detention center in the Northeast.
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On Tuesday, Dec. 20, U.S. Representative Mary Gay Scanlon, sent a scathing letter to Department of Homeland Security head Alejandro Mayorkas requesting to halt the expansion of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) into the Moshannon Valley Correctional Facility.
The Centre County Commissioner’s office worked in the shadows with ICE and private prison enterprise GEO Group during the course of the last year to convert Moshannan into an immigration detention center, poised to become the largest in the Northeast.
It wasn’t until a lawsuit was leveled by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) at the county that the commissioner’s office opened up negotiations to the public.
If the project is seen through to completion, migrants currently held at other, recently shut-down centers, like the Berks County Residential Facility, would soon be transferred to another repurposed immigrant correctional facility, despite a persisting call to close ICE detention centers region-wide.
The ACLU, in the last year, has detailed hundreds of instances of disturbing and abusive practices at for-profit detention centers.
Still, despite public outcry and the administration’s 2021 executive order to end the private-public detention affair, ICE remains persistently reliant on federally subsidized detention facilities.
In her letter, Scanlon specifically decried “GEO Group’s well-known $1 a day “voluntary work program, which a federal court has found to have violated at least one state’s minimum wage laws and is being challenged in other states. Additionally, private immigration detention facilities run by GEO Group regularly mistreat individuals in their custody, subjecting them to physical and verbal racist abuse.”
“ICE does not hold private contract detention facilities accountable for failing to meet quality assurance standards, and when it does, it often grants waivers exempting the facilities from having to meet them,” the letter continued.
Congresswoman Scanlon’s steps follow a multi-year effort to close all detention centers in Pennsylvania with the expressed purpose of detaining migrants seeking asylum — including community advocacy groups like Shut Down Berks, ALDEA, an immigration legal service fund, the Pennsylvania Immigration and Citizenship Coalition, and the Pennsylvania Chapter of ACLU.
After Berks unexpectedly announced it would close its doors at the beginning of 2023, immigration advocates regrouped to prepare for migrant relocation, given Berks’s closure didn’t signal a statewide pattern.
“We will be talking to ICE about having those people released and not transferred to any other facility far away from their community, far away from their legal advocates. That’s just completely unnecessary and harmful,” Adriana Zambrano, an immigration attorney and ALDEA’s Program coordinator, told AL DIA in a previous interview, on the heels of Berks closure.
Zambrano added ALDEA had successfully argued numerous asylum cases and had already preemptively prepared for the transfer of Berks, all of whom were migrant women.
But Moshannon’s rural location would make it increasingly difficult for migrants to secure legal services, and the farther the center is from an urban location, “the less likely there are to be attorneys and legal services organizations capable of providing pro bono representation.”
“The lack of such services has a significant, negative impact on the ability of detainees to successfully prosecute their asylum and other legal claims,” the letter concludes.
Little is known about how immigration advocacy groups plan to address the refashioned Moshannon center, but sources tell AL DÍA that there are plans to put GEO Group and Moshannon under pressure to impede transfers.
Besides Berks, there are two county correctional facilities in operation, with Moshannon in line to be the third.
The ACLU, though, has also called for the President to end all private contracts with ICE, but the administration has steered clear of any measures directed at PA detention centers.