Central PA's LGBT News Source

LGBT Center of Central PA

Families should be together, safe, and free!


On June 30, a group of us from the LGBT Center were proud to come together at Harrisburg’s Sunken Gardens with hundreds of people who gathered on a sticky Saturday afternoon to march in solidarity with immigrants. Our rallying cry? “Families should be together, safe, and free!”

This rally, and others happening across the country, were in response to the Trump Administration’s “zero tolerance” policy of detaining immigrant families, and literally ripping children away from their parents. This cruel family separation sparked an outcry across the country, and was quickly rolled back. Now, the news coverage has died down, and for many of us our lives have gone back to normal.

Yet for parents and children who have already been separated, there is nothing “normal” about not knowing if or when you will see your family again. For parents and children who are being incarcerated together, there is nothing “normal” about being a family behind bars. For parents and children who have been reunited, there is no going back to “normal” after the trauma they have experienced.

While the Executive Order may have halted the cruel family separation, it does not guarantee reunification for the thousands children who have already been separated from their parents. It does not provide trauma-informed counseling and support for those who have been reunited. And it does not end the practice of incarcerating entire families together.

In fact, by rolling back from a policy almost universally condemned, it is now normalizing the “lesser of two evils”. At least families are together, right, even if they’re in jail? Trading family separation for family detention is not the answer.

Yes, families belong together - not in a detention center, but in a safe place with access to legal, medical, mental health, and other services.

It’s important for us to recognize, too, that family detention is not something happening only in Texas. Pennsylvania is home to one of three ICE family detention centers in the country - Berks County Detention Center. Just a little over an hour drive from my home in Harrisburg, immigrant families are being incarcerated indefinitely - including children as young as two weeks old. There have been multiple reports of human rights abuses, and the center is currently operating without a license.

The Shut Down Berks Campaign has been working for some time to get this facility shut down. This coalition of over a dozen organizations holds regular rallies at the detention facility and organizes advocacy opportunities calling attention to this ongoing injustice. They have met with our state government to advocate for an emergency removal order to shut it down. Yet as of this writing, there has been no movement.

As much as we need to be in solidarity with all of the families in Texas whose lives will never be the same, we also need to be in solidarity with all of the families right in our backyard who are being impacted. “Shut Down Berks!” was one of the rallying cries on June 30, and should still be today.

When faced with injustices of this magnitude, it can be easy to feel powerless. But doing nothing only allows these injustices to continue, and we become complicit in them. Our task then, in seeking to be allies, is to find the tangible, ongoing actions that we can take to support the efforts that are already happening.

First, we need to speak out. This can be sharing information on social media, educating your co-workers or friends, or contacting your elected officials. Using your spheres of influence to make others aware and to urge those in power to take action is critical.
Second, we need to show up. If you are able to be physically present at the rallies at the detention center or the advocacy days at the Capitol, be there - and bring a friend. If you are able to volunteer with some of the local partners doing tangible things to support their organizing efforts, be there.

Third, we need to put our money where our mouth is. Donating financially to the Shut Down Berks Campaign or organizations that are part of this coalition enables this work to continue, and even a small amount can make a big difference.

Families should be together, safe, and free. As queer and trans folks, many of us have experienced loss or separation from family - which should spur us all the more to support immigrant families. Each of our struggles, although unique, are interconnected - and we support justice for all people who are oppressed and marginalized.