Originally published by Patch
Officials at Grassroots Leadership — an Austin-based national organization working against prison profiteering, mass incarceration and deportation — will ask Williamson County Commissioners Court members to intervene on behalf of an immigrant woman facing extreme hardship at a county detention center.
The group is acting on behalf of Laura Monterrosa, an asylum seeker from El Salvador being detained at the T. Don Hutto Residential Center in Taylor, Texas, which in actuality is a detention center for immigrant women. Advocates say the woman's mental and physical health continue to decline after she was driven to attempt suicide at the detention center in early January. Monterrosa has spent nearly nine months at the detention center where she previously spoke out about being sexually assaulted by a guard.
Since her outcry, the woman has been subjected to what Grassroots Leadership officials say is a pattern of retaliation — including being placed in solitary confinement for 60 hours earlier this month in what her advocates say was vengeance for her outcry.
"This should not be happening in America," Claudia Muñoz, immigration programs director at Grassroots Leadership, previously said. "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."
Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials said in December the woman's claims could not be corroborated, and there was insufficient evidence to move forward with an investigation. However, the FBI is said to be looking into the claims.
Patch previously reached out to ICE for comment, receiving a reply from a spokeswoman on Nov. 9, 2017.
"U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) does not comment on pending investigations," ICE spokeswoman Nina Pruneda said in a prepared statement. "However, the agency is committed to ensuring all individuals in our custody are treated in a safe, secure and humane manner. Accusations of alleged unlawful conduct are investigated thoroughly and appropriate action is taken to ensure the safety and security of those involved and the others in ICE custody."
Moreover, the ICE spokeswoman said, the agency has safeguards in place to protect detainees:
- ICE has implemented strong protections against sexual assault in accordance with standards set forth in the DHS Prison Rape Elimination Act regulation.
- It is ICE policy to provide effective safeguards against sexual abuse and assault of all individuals in ICE custody, including with respect to screening, staff training, detainee education, response and intervention, medical and mental health care, reporting, investigation, and monitoring and oversight.
- Under our Family Residential Standards, ICE facilities are inspected annually with safeguards against sexual assault as a primary concern.
Grassroots Leadership officials dispute such assurances, noting they've twice had to call 911 after Monterrosa was feeling suicidal again. Consequently, the nonprofit's officials are scheduled to testify at the Williamson County Commissioners Court on Tuesday morning to speak on the woman's behalf.
Over the years, the Williamson County Commissioners Court has reaped hundreds of millions of dollars from the detention center operators in return for allowing the site to operate within the county. Critics say it's that profitable arrangement with the detention center's operators that has caused the county to look the other way when incidents of alleged abuse emerge.
Recent years have been extremely lucrative to county officials, with the detention center's operators fortifying county coffers with payments to allow them to run the site in Williamson County. According to an email from Williamson County spokesperson Connie Watson, payments from ICE to CCA for May 2006 through September 2015 totaled $225 million. Additionally, payments made from ICE to the county from May 2006 to September 2015 amounted $1.7 million in administrative fees, which are then deposited into the county's general fund, she wrote.
At the time of the request for information, the latest renewal of the pact at the time, executed in December 2014, showed the county was getting $8,000 per month from CCA — up from $6,000 a month previously — in addition to $1 per day per detainee. The exact number of detainees at Hutto is somewhat secretive given that ICE falls under the Department of Homeland Security — which states it withholds such information for national security — but it has been estimated at that time to be at least 400.
Patch emailed Williamson County Sheriff Robert Chody for comment about the allegations months ago, but never received a response.
Another prominent critic of the county's financial arrangement with the detention center's operators is former Georgetown Mayor MaryEllen Kersch, who in 2015 took commissioners to task for their role in running the facility.
"Is it on behalf of the citizens of Williamson County that you continue to participate in that contract under which T. Don Hutto immigration prison in Taylor abuses applicants seeking amnesty in our nation?" Kersch asked county commissioners during their meeting as they remained silent on the matter during and after she spoke. "The latest report of retaliation for hunger strikes being waged by powerless and pathetic prisoners is just the latest indication that CCA and ICE are without any degree of humanity," Kersch continued. "But what about the Williamson County Commissioners Court? Are you content to continue your complicity in this endeavor even now? You have continued to vote to renew that abhorrent contract that is beyond reprehensible."
Grassroots Leadership officials are scheduled to gather at the Williamson County Commissioners Court, 710 S. Main St., in Georgetown, Texas, on Tuesday, Feb. 20, at 9:30 am. Officials at the nonprofit will be joined by community members who have visited with Monterrosa while she's been in detention after attempting to seek asylum.