Lisa Neuhauser

  • Trip to the Border – "We are talking about basic needs"

    Part of my initiatives as an OEP Migrant Justice Organizer intern has been to familiarize people with conditions at the southern border and to possibly encourage others to visit and volunteer there personally. A friend recently returned from a weeklong trip to help one of the most active volunteer groups and shared her reflections with me below:


    Reflections by Risa Paskoff, Lisa Rohde, and Joanne Berkowitz of Lancaster, PA

    At the present time, many of us are facing a variety of challenges, personally as well as within our own communities and then on a larger scale, within our state and our country.

    Experiencing stress and uncertainty are common and frequent emotions for a number of people. Given these possible challenges, for most of us, our basic needs are most likely being met. We have a roof over our heads, clothing, and food in our homes or access to meals at various houses of worship and/or non-profit organizations on an ongoing basis.  We live in an area that is relatively safe and for the most part, we are not afraid of driving down a certain street or walking through a specific neighborhood.

    For those who are living either in Mexico or recently crossed the Texas/Mexico border, this is not the case.  People of all ages are experiencing food insecurity as well as not having their basic needs met.  If they have crossed the border, they may only have the clothes that they are wearing.  Their shoes might just be flip flops which will not be suitable once the cold weather arrives, especially for those who will be traveling north to their sponsors.  Women express a need for feminine products as well as diapers and wipes for their young children. Men ask for underwear and a belt as their belts were taken away at the detention center by border patrol agents, for “fear they might hurt themselves.” On my recent trip to the border one little boy was given a blue sweatshirt and he was so excited as it matched his only pair of sweatpants. As he left us, he gave each of the volunteers a high five. A sweatshirt that many of us take for granted and many of us have more than one.

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  • Group Works to Shut Down Women's Detention Center

    NO IMMIGRANT WOMEN’S PRISON IN PA! Vigil held by Shut Down Berks Coalition,

    a group of organizations and individuals fighting to close the Berks County (PA)

    immigrant prison in Pennsylvania

    Since 2014, the Shut Down Berks Coalition has been one of the main voices defending the rights of immigrants, asylum seekers, and refugees in the Berks County area and beyond attracting supporters from all corners of the Commonwealth. This event was one of the group’s monthly events held outside of the Berks County Detention Center, recently renamed “Residential Center.” The center formerly housed detained asylum seeker families including many children. After being closed in part due to the pressure brought by SDBC and others, the facility quietly opened its doors again after the first of the year. ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) has begun to bring immigrant women here where conditions, according to the Coalition’s social media, are even worse than before. The local community has been confused and distracted by the contract between Berks County Commissioners and ICE which touts the income and jobs coming into the community from the contract.

    This vigil was my first encounter with SDBC and the Berks detention facility in Leesport, just north of Reading – Pennsylvania’s fourth largest city. Upon arriving to the lush, green multi-acre compound it was hard to believe that this was anything but a calming place to spend time. But then I saw the barricaded parking lot and fenced off areas in front of the main detention center where approximately 80 immigrant women are being detained by ICE. According to members of the Coalition who have managed to communicate with a few of the detainees, the women are being isolated from one another with little contact to others.

    Tonya Wenger who is the coordinator of the Coalition gave an update on the group’s upcoming events as well as recent movements around the Center. Rev. Sandy Strauss, Director of Advocacy & Ecumenical Outreach for the Pennsylvania Council of Churches, led the vigil with prayer and reflections. She has also been an active advocate with this group and for immigrants for many years. In talking with Sandy before the vigil I learned that she and the others here have reached beyond the borders of Berks County to challenge this center’s existence, including protests at both the state and federal Capitols, in confronting legislators, and prior to the first closure, PA’s Governor.

    I was also drawn in by two young men who are obviously very involved and dedicated to the cause and both of immigrant descent. In my conversation with Ezra, he was very open about his familial ties to immigration including the horrors experienced by relatives who made their way from Mexico and the continuing racism they experience even now as they have become hard working members of the community. “I compare immigration to Harriet Tubman bringing slaves to freedom in complete darkness and through dangerous spaces,” he shared. I found this comparison eye-opening but obviously true. “She told them to keep going even if it was hard and if they were in pain to ignore it,” he went on.

    President Biden has clear authority to permanently close the Berks immigrant prison and release all women currently incarcerated at Berks by canceling the ICE contract with Berks County. The President does not need Congress for this action. President Biden’s stated priorities endorse an immigration system that “welcomes immigrants, keeps families together, and allows people across the country—both newly arrived immigrants and people who have lived here for generations—to more fully contribute to our country.” He campaigned on reducing immigrant detention. Instead, he has expanded ICE detention in PA, doubling beds at Berks and opening a 1900-bed private prison at Moshannon. (PICC, Campaign to Shut Down Berks - Pennsylvania Immigration and Citizenship Coalition (

    There are currently four detention centers operated by ICE in the state of Pennsylvania:

                  -Berks Residential Center, Leesport

                  -Clinton County Correctional Facility, McElhatten

                  -Pike County Correctional Facility, Lords Valley

                  -Moshannon Valley Processing Center, Philipsburg

    (Detention Facilities | ICE)      

    OEP encourages you to become active with either Shut Down Berks Coalition via their in-person or online events to close this facility and others in PA or find an organization in your own area. But do something! There are so many facets of the immigration system that go against the grain of basic human rights and social justice. OEP plays an active role in addressing and confronting these atrocities. Look for more announcements about direct action events as well as online opportunities to become involved.

    (2) Shut Down Berks Coalition | Facebook