The Berks Kids

Kids and their parents are stuck in what’re known as “baby jails.” Their so-called crime? Fleeing violence and dreaming of safety in the U.S.

Every year, tens of thousands of people come to the U.S. southern border seeking safety. They are trying to escape horrific violence and persecution, and coming here to ask for asylum, a form of protection recognized under U.S. and international law.

The Problem

Upon entering the U.S., many people seeking safety here are imprisoned and held behind bars for many weeks, months, and even years, without easy access to attorneys or interpreters.
The majority come from the Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador in Central America. But they also come from Africa, South Asia, the Middle East, and elsewhere.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) detains families seeking asylum at three family detention centers. They hold as many as 3,000 kids and parents each day. Berks County Residential Center in Pennsylvania is the oldest of these “baby jails.” Some children and parents are deported without ever having their claims heard – forced to return to countries where they may be tortured, imprisoned, or even killed.


Amnesty International has helped protect the human rights of refugees and asylum seekers for decades – documenting the conditions they’re fleeing, ensuring that individual people are protected, and changing policies so that more people can rebuild their lives.
Last year, Amnesty International campaigned for the release of four families held at Berks family detention center. They had been jailed there for nearly two years. In August, all four families were friends. One child was three-years-old when released. He learned to walk and talk behind bars. Our urgent action to free these children and their parents was part of #TheBerksKids campaign to end the policy of detaining families simply for seeking safety in the U.S.

Take action

While the four Berks families are free, the battle doesn’t end there. The government is trying to put them back in jail, and new families continue to be locked up every day at Berks as well as the other detention sites in Karnes City and Dilley, Texas. Family detention is inhumane, expensive, and undermines our country’s long history as a beacon of hope for people seeking safety. It’s time the U.S. free all families in detention like #TheBerksKids.

Join us and call on DHS to immediately release parents and children in detention like #TheBerksKids, and end the policy of detaining families for seeking asylum.

Pass a student resolution, or get a school/local leader to make a public statement saying NO! to the locking up kids and parents at Berks or anywhere in the U.S. We’ll amplify these resolutions and statements with coalition partners so our elected officials see there’s a powerful grassroots movement to halt this cruel practice. Our Spring 2018 #TheBerksKids Activism Guide can help you get started.

Tell ICE – Grant Astrid’s Birthday Wish

Astrid just turned 15 years old while behind bars with her dad Arturo. They’ve been detained at Berks since February 20, 2018, when ICE took them from their Pennsylvania home in the middle of the night. This family applied for asylum because they fear returning to Guatemala as Indigenous K’iche, and because Guatemala has some of the highest rates of gender-based violence in the world.

There’s been no reason presented to keep this child and father detained. Astrid wishes to be freed so she can return back to the school she’s attended since fifth grade. She’s now in eighth grade and her favorite subject is math. She’s worried about the homework she’s missed.

SENDING HOPE BEHIND BARS: A Mother’s and Father’s Day Card Action

We’re collecting solidarity cards from activists like you for parents waiting to be released from Berks with their kids so that they can rebuild their lives in safety. We’ll deliver the cards you create for these moms and dads on days that our cultures celebrate them, their love, and their strength.

Learn more here, and then use this reporting form after you take action.


We conduct research that shines a light on why people are fleeing and what they experience trying to find safety. This research helps lawyers win individual cases and helps spark legislative reform. Here are some of these groundbreaking reports on refugees and asylum seekers:

Mom and Dad Blogs
Newsroom Highlights

For questions or comments, reach out to [email protected].