An incarcerated immigrant woman alleges guards sexually harassed and assaulted her and other women at a private immigrant detention center in Taylor, Texas, and retaliated against those who spoke out.
Twenty-three year old Laura Monterrosa is currently detained at the T. Don Hutto Residential Center, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facility operated by CoreCivic, a major private prison company that was once known as Corrections Corporation of America. Hutto holds roughly 500 women, nearly all of whom were detained after fleeing violence in their home countries and seeking asylum in the United States.
In a letter published on November 6 by the immigrant rights group Grassroots Leadership, Monterrosa explained women are threatened with deportation or transfer to other detention centers for speaking out about their abuse. “Due to the necessity that the women in this place have, they are forced to remain silent and every day, their and our rights are violated,” she wrote.
Monterrosa experienced assaults and harassment by a female guard, who she said was “telling me threatening words and forcing me to have unwanted relations with her, which I did not want.” She felt she had to do what the guard wanted. “She even told me when to go to recess, and when I was not allowed to talk with other residents, she always stared at me accusingly.”
“She began to tell me she liked me, and that whatever she liked belonged to her, and every time, her words became more absurd as she told me that she loved me and that she wasn’t going to let anyone humiliate her,” Monterrosa wrote [PDF]. She added, “Given that I didn’t want a relationship and she was only focused on me, she always demanded to know what I did with other women and why I was with them.”
“I got tired of all of this and asked her ‘no more,’ because I was very scared, but she didn’t care,” Monterrosa shared. “I told her that I was going to talk to the captain, but she laughed with a sarcastic laugh and said, ‘do you think that he will believe you? Please, they never will.'”
Monterrosa said the guard “looked for or took advantage of every moment she could to touch my breasts or my legs. She knew where and when she did it. I don’t remember dates because there are many. She worked in the recreation area and what she did with me she did with other residents.”
“The only thing that she says is that she is good friends with the boss. [Redacted] and Ms. [Redacted] are harassing the residents of this detention center. Enough is enough. We came looking for help not for them to harm us more.”
According to Grassroots Leadership, Williamson County Sheriff’s deputies interviewed Monterrosa about these claims with ICE officials present. “Despite bravely recounting her experiences to the deputies, she was treated like she was the suspect,” they wrote. “Throughout the interview, [Monterrosa] was treated with suspicion, disrespect, and deputies dismissed her testimony.”
The group noted law enforcement was made aware of two witnesses to her assault, which means they can “start their investigation immediately, if they are truly interested in justice for [Monterrosa].”
“In this place, we don’t have rights, only duties,” Monterrosa observed. “We are not criminals, we only want to protect our lives, we can’t stand any more torture or threats in this place because of their actions, as the threatening and torturous relationship with [redacted] began in the summer.”
In an interview with The Austin Chronicle this week, Monterrosa said her life is “like a hell right now” and that she’s under tight surveillance, searches, and discrimination. “They aren’t treating me the same as others. I feel extremely controlled. They want to blame me for making the complaint,” she added.
Hutto has a history of failing to protect women from sexual violence perpetrated by guards. In 2007, at a time when children were detained with their mothers at the facility, a woman reported a guard assaulted her “while her son was sleeping in his crib inside the cell.” One year later, the Department of Homeland Security found Hutto was not compliant with ICE standards against sexual assault.
In 2015, eight women from Eritrea, Brazil, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras accused an officer at Hutto of multiple sexual assaults around 2010. He attacked the women as he transported them after their release from detention.
Monterrosa is one of many incarcerated immigrant women bravely resisting abuse and confinement in U.S. detention centers. Two years ago, 27 women went on a hunger strike at Hutto to protest their conditions and demand their release. They endured retaliation including intimidation, solitary confinement, freezing cold cells, and lost recreation time, while ICE denied the protest was taking place.
That same year, 78 women were placed in solitary with their children after engaging in hunger and work strikes at the family detention center in Karnes County, Texas.
Earlier this year, 27 immigrants filed a federal lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security’s Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties alleging sexual harassment and abuse in detention facilities around the country.
These private facilities have routinely operated with little meaningful oversight from the government, where the trauma of their journey is compounded by the traumas of incarceration.