Laura Monterrosa, the Salvadoran asylum seeker who was at one point thrown into solitary confinement for speaking out about the sexual abuse she says she suffered while in detention, has been freed. Grassroots Leadership, the immigrant rights group that has rallied at Monterrosa’s side from the start, said in a press release that she was released Friday night and “recovering from the trauma she has experienced.”
“Despite facing retaliation inside, including solitary confinement, Laura showed incredible courage in speaking out to tell her story,” said Claudia Muñoz, the group’s immigration programs director, which helped organized visits, phone calls and thousands of petitions in her support. “This is a huge victory for Laura, for all the women who have organized and spoken out, and for the community that came to their support.”
Monterrosa had been speaking out for months about the abuses by a guard at T. Don Hutto Residential Center, but says harassment tactics took a turn when the FBI took over her case after Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the sheriff’s office tried to close it. “The ICE official went as far as telling her that he expected her to recant her claim to the media,” said Grassroots Leadership, “or else she would be locked up again in solitary confinement indefinitely.”
Monterrosa attempted suicide in January, and then in February Austin City Councilman Greg Casar was blocked from visiting her by jail officials because “he was a public official who might talk to the media before or after the visit.” Days later, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF) sued for Monterrosa’s release.
“Last week, a federal judge in Austin heard a habeas petition and temporary restraining order filed in her case,” Grassroots Leadership said. “It was only after a settlement in the case that ICE was ordered to provide external mental health care.” And after 45 members of Congress wrote a letter, led by Texas Congressmen Lloyd Doggett and Joaquin Castro, calling on the Department of Homeland Security to investigate sexual abuse at Texas detention centers.
“Complaints of sexual abuse by guards and subsequent retaliation by ICE following victim grievances are disturbing and unacceptable,” said Congressman Doggett. “Many of these victims are refugees seeking asylum, fleeing prior traumatic experiences. Basic human decency requires that they not be abused here. Our questions are designed to ensure some accountability for these disturbing allegations of sexual and physical abuse. ICE should respect and protect immigrants’ human rights.”
“Allegations of sexual harassment at ICE and the ways in which the agency refuses to deal with it are deeply disturbing,” said Congressman Castro. “Sexual harassment, assault, and abuse of any magnitude is unacceptable, especially for vulnerable immigrants who, oftentimes, are already fleeing traumatic circumstances.” According to Women’s Refugee Commission, “in the spring of 2007, another guard at Hutto was terminated for having sex with a female detainee in her cell.”
Monterrosa is now free to, hopefully, successfully continue her asylum process, but her advocates worry about others. “This shows what the power of community can do,” said Grassroots Leadership’s Bethany Carson. “But we also know that there are more than 500 women still locked up at Hutto every single night. Our hearts are full knowing that Laura does not need to spend any more time at Hutto, but we will not stop fighting until every injustice at Hutto is addressed and the facility is closed once and for all.”