Twenty-two women being held with their children at the Berks County Residential Center in Leesport, Pa., 70 miles northwest of Philadelphia, last week restarted a hunger strike they conducted for 16 days in August. The New York Times reports that the action drew renewed attention to the Obama administration’s policy toward migrants from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras who have crossed the U.S. border to flee extreme violence. The women are among a group who were denied asylum and filed a federal lawsuit seeking new hearings because, they said, their original “credible fear” hearings were conducted improperly. An appeals court rejected their claim last week.
The family detention center in Pennsylvania is one of three in the U.S.; the other two are in Texas. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said a committee would conduct an internal review of the privately run family detention centers by November. Johnson said the average length of stay at a family detention center was 20 days, but one woman in the Pennsylvania center said she had been there for 320 days. Last week, a federal appeals court ruled that the women, because they had been apprehended hours after having “surreptitiously” crossed the border, had no right to sue. That, said several legal scholars, violated habeas corpus, the basic constitutional right to challenge the legality of imprisonment or detention.