For months, Laura Monterrosa, an asylum seeker who is currently detained at the T. Don Hutto Residential Center in Texas, says she’s been subjected to threats, harassment, and sexual abuse at the hands of officials throughout her detention at the privately-run facility. She hasn’t been silent:
In January, Monterrosa told The Outline that she had been abused by a female guard there for months, and that other guards had known about it. Monterrosa had initially published an anonymous letter detailing her abuse in November. Then, CoreCivic guards, who were tipped off by an anonymous call, interviewed her. She was also interviewed by ICE officials and the local sheriff’s office. “They treated me like I wasn’t a victim — like I was a criminal,” Monterrosa told The Outline. ICE and the sheriff’s office both closed the case.
But in December, the FBI took over Laura’s case from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and went to the detention center to interview her. It’s then that human rights group Grassroots Leadership says ICE and CoreCivic’s retaliation tactics escalated to extreme cruelty:
Survivor of sexual assault Laura Monterrosa was locked in solitary confinement for 60 hours in Hutto Detention Center this weekend as an act of retaliation by ICE. From approximately 11 PM on Friday night to 11 AM Monday morning, Laura was told she would not be released from solitary confinement until she publicly stated that she had not been sexually abused.
“One ICE Official named Soto specifically demanded Laura call me and tell me she was no longer going to work with us,” said Grassroots Leadership’s Bethany Carson. “The ICE official went as far as telling her that he expected her to recant her claim to the media, or else she would be locked up again in solitary confinement indefinitely.”
Sexual abuse and harassment have been rampant at Hutto and other Texas detention facilities for years. According to Women’s Refugee Commission, in 2007 a guard employed by CoreCivic was “fired for sexually assaulting multiple women inside their cells”:
Unfortunately, this is not the first time sexual assault of detainees has occurred. In the spring of 2007, another guard at Hutto was terminated for having sex with a female detainee in her cell. Also in 2007, a guard was convicted in Florida for raping a woman during transport between detention facilities. In the summer of 2009, investigations were pending involving four rapes at the Willacy detention facility in Texas. Earlier this year, a guard at the Port Isabel Detention Center in Texas was convicted of sexually assaulting three women. In each of these cases, the safety and well-being of the victims was jeopardized by ICE's feeble and secretive response.
According to Grassroots Leadership and advocates, “over the past four months, community advocates have witnessed ICE and CoreCivic’s retaliation tactics against Laura escalate from verbal aggression to threats of administrative discipline and indefinite periods of confinement.” Following 60 hours in solitary—which is torture—“advocates are calling on the Taylor Police Department to investigate ICE’s intimidation of Laura”:
“This should not be happening in America. Here you have a woman who came forward to report rampant sexual abuse inside of a federal facility. Instead of protecting her, and ensuring the abuse stops, ICE is now putting Laura in solitary confinement with the expressed intent of tearing her down so she will do as they say. This is against the law. There is an ongoing FBI investigation and ICE is trying to convince this witness to change her story.” said Claudia Muñoz, immigration programs director at Grassroots Leadership. “This is one of the most egregious abuses I have ever witnessed.”
“While Laura’s investigation is pending with the FBI,” Carson said, “we are asking the Taylor Police Department to do everything in their power to investigate ICE for the witness tampering and obstruction of justice as ICE violates Laura’s civil rights.”