Scanlon, Dean Demand Answers From ICE on COVID-19 Response at Berks Family Detention Center

Mary Gay Scanlon
5 min readJun 18, 2020


WASHINGTON, DC — Representatives Madeleine Dean (PA-4) and Mary Gay Scanlon (PA-5) wrote a letter to Mr. Matthew T. Albence, Acting Director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, inquiring about the pandemic response at the ICE family detention facility at Berks Family Center in Leesport, Pennsylvania.

The letter follows news that there are currently zero confirmed cases of COVID-19 among Berks Family Center detainees. However, ICE reported testing only 5,096 of the 24,713 detainees it holds across the nation — leaving nearly 80% of detainees without COVID-19 testing. This is particularly concerning because detention facilities are known to be significant vectors of viral spread.

“The lack of transparency from the Berks County detention center deeply concerns me — we know with limited testing, there is an inability to trace and limit the spread of COVID-19, signaling that transmission rates are likely higher than we realize,” Rep. Dean said. “It’s very concerning that these families are not only confined to this space, but at a higher risk of exposure to COVID-19 — we must protect them.”

“As the coronavirus pandemic continues to devastate communities across the country, we know that individuals at congregant facilities are most at risk for infection,” Rep. Scanlon said. “Oversight of detention facilities, like Berks, has always been important, especially during this public health crisis. We must continue to hold this Administration accountable, and ensure that immigrants in our country are treated with dignity and fairness.”

Reps. Dean and Scanlon’s letter follows a letter sent earlier this spring by Judiciary Committee Chairman, Jerrold Nadler, and Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship, Chair Zoe Lofgren, urging aggressive measures to limit the spread of COVID-19 in ICE facilities, including the release of individuals who pose no security threat.

In July of last year, the Reps. made a surprise visit to the Center to examine the conditions of the facility and speak with families and personnel following respective trips to detention facilities at our southern border.

A copy of this letter can be found below.


Dear Acting Director Albence:

We write concerning Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) pandemic response at the family detention facility at Berks Family Residential Center in Leesport, Pennsylvania. As you may know, this facility is one of three family detention facilities that ICE operates in the country.[1] As of June 12th, 2020, ICE reported that there were no confirmed cases of COVID-19 among detainees or staff at the Berks facility. Ordinarily this would be cause for some relief, but ICE has only tested 5,096 of the 24,713 people that it detains.[2] That is only a fifth of the detainee population. ICE has not provided any data about the Berks facility, suggesting that the detainees at the Berks facility have been tested for COVID-19.

The statistics that ICE has disclosed reveal that nearly 15 percent of detainees tested for COVID-19 have the disease. That number, as ICE admits, does not include detainees who tested positive for the disease and were subsequently released. We also know that the raw numbers at facilities across the country do not bode well for the health and safety of the detainees and the communities they are being held in. For example, 135 detainees have contracted the novel coronavirus at the ICE Bluebonnet Detention facility in Dallas, TX; 116 have tested positive at the Winn Correctional Center in New Orleans, LA; and 22 detainees have tested positive for COVID-19 at the Pike Country Correctional Facility in our home state of Pennsylvania.[3]

Medical experts and public health officials have repeatedly warned that the conditions of detention are contrary to best practices for reducing the spread of viral contagion.[4] On April 7th, Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler and Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship Chair Zoe Lofgren sent a letter urging aggressive measures to limit the spread of coronavirus in ICE facilities, including the release of individuals who pose no security risk.[5] We echo their calls.

In addition, we request answers to the following questions about conditions, precautions, and safety measures at the Berks Family Residential Center ICE facility:

1. How many people are currently detained at the Berks facility? Please provide their ages, gender, and country of origin.

2. Have detainees and employees at the Berks facility been tested for COVID-19?

a. If so, what were the results of those tests?

b. How frequently are staff and detainees being tested?

c. If any staff has tested positive for COVID-19 are there efforts being made at contact tracing to reduce the spread of contagion in the community?

3. Has any guidance related to COVID-19 been provided to the ICE employees at the Berks facility?

a. If not, what are your agency’s immediate plans to distribute such guidance?

b. If so, what sanitation guidelines were provided?

c. What protocols are in place for managing the health of detainees that either have or as suspected of having COVID-19?

d. What safety measures are in place for protecting the rest of the facilities population from infected or potentially infected individuals?

4. Are detainees provided personal hygiene and sanitation products such as soap, face masks, and sanitizers?

a. If so, how frequently are they provided and in what quantities?

Given the urgency of the public health crisis, we ask for your timely attention to our inquiry and look forward to your response. Thank you for your time and consideration.


Madeleine Dean Mary Gay Scanlon

Member of Congress Member of Congress

[1] Jeff Gamage, Activists fear many more ICE detaineesa re infected with coronavirus than limited testing shows, The Philadelphia Inquirer, April 21, 2020, available at

[2] Immigration and Customs Enforcement, ICE Guidance on COVID-19: Confirmed Cases, (last visited May 4, 2020, 4:45pm).

[3] Id.

[4] Fernanda Echavarri and Noah Lanard, A Doctor on ICE’s Response to the Pandemic: “You Could Call It COVID-19 Torture,” Mother Jones, April 13, 2020, available at

[5] Nadler, Jerrold and Lofgren, Zoe. Reps. Jerrold Nadler and Zoe Lofgren to Acting Director Matthew Albence. April 7, 2020. From the U.S. House Committee on the Judiciary.



Mary Gay Scanlon

Mary Gay Scanlon currently serves a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for Pennsylvania’s 5th Congressional District.