More women accused guards of sexual abuse at a for-profit immigrant detention center in Taylor, Texas.
“Ana” and “Esmeralda” said they were sexually harassed by a guard for months in the recreation area at T. Don Hutto Residential Center. They spoke out anonymously to avoid retaliation by immigration and detention officials just weeks after another woman detained at the same facility went public with claims of sexual abuse and retaliation.
Hutto is operated by the private prison company CoreCivic, formerly known as Corrections Corporation of America. It is under contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Ana told the immigrant rights group Grassroots Leadership that a guard who watched over the recreation area repeatedly asked about her sexuality and stared at her inappropriately.
“She also told me that we were going to be together one day,” Ana said. “I was harassed every time I was around her, but I was scared of saying anything for fear that doing so may negatively impact my case.”
Other guards encouraged Ana to report the harassment to detention officials, but she said no action was taken and the guard was allowed to keep working at the facility. ICE investigators told Ana she was lying and transferred her to a different detention center in Laredo. She is aware of at least one other woman, who endured harassment, and was deported shortly after Ana arrived at Hutto.
“CoreCivic and ICE do everything in their power to cover these types of situations and make sure everything stays internally,” Ana said, adding, “they think they are untouchable.”
Esmeralda wrote to Grassroots Leadership about harassment from the same guard discussed in Ana’s letter. She said she was afraid to use her real name in case ICE retaliated against her by targeting her pending immigration case.
“When I go out to recreation, I feel the gaze over me of an official known as Miss [redacted],” Esmeralda said.
“I do Zumba exercises, and she’s always there close by, with her gazes over me that make me feel uncomfortable. She almost always tries to draw conversation out of me, and I almost always ignore her. When she says something to me I answer with a yes or with a no, I do everything possible to get far away from her.”
“I fear greatly for my safety, I don’t want the same thing to happen to me as has happened to other people in this place,” Esmeralda said.
In addition to going public with their stories, women detained at Hutto are resisting their abuse by avoiding being alone with these guards whenever possible.
Grassroots Leadership said they are withholding the names of accused guards at this time but said they are “planning to release their names in the near future.”
The organization is asking for people in the Williamson County area, who want to support the women at Hutto, to contact their office for information on upcoming actions and events. They are holding an event outside the county sheriff’s office at 10:00 AM on December 4 and are collecting signatures for a petition demanding the immediate release of Laura Monterrosa.
Monterrosa reported harassment, assault, and retaliation by multiple guards against her and other women earlier in November. The guard, who harassed Ana and Esmeralda, is one of the guards mentioned in Monterrosa’s letter.
Bethany Carson, a researcher and organizer at Grassroots Leadership, said it is “unconscionable to continue to lock up Laura with her abuser for one more day. As more women come forward with their experiences of abuse following Laura’s brave example, she faces increasing retaliation from CCA and ICE officials inside.”
“She must be released immediately to pursue her complaint outside of detention where she can live in peace and recover from this new trauma she experienced at the hands of those responsible for ensuring her safety while seeking refuge from the violence she fled in El Salvador.”
According to Claudia Muñoz, a program director for Grassroots Leadership, Monterrosa faces “increased hostility from the guards.”
“The guard who abused her is still employed at the detention center and having to see her abuser everyday has made Laura’s detention ‘a living hell,’ in her own words,” Muñoz told Shadowproof. Monterrosa has also reported an increased presence of ICE agents at Hutto, with six ICE agents in the recreation area on November 28.
“This makes her feel much more unsafe due to the fact that ICE accused her of lying during her investigation. She said that it feels like increased ICE presence is there to make women feel like they are being watched and punished, not protected,” Muñoz said.
Muñoz added, “I want people to know that abuse of power from guards happens at many jails and detention centers, especially those being run by private corporations. I’d encourage people to see what jails and detention centers are near them and start talking to people in their own communities about them.”