A twenty-three year-old immigrant woman from El Salvador attempted suicide at a private immigration detention center in Texas after learning she may face punishment for avoiding a guard who sexually abused her and still works at the facility.
Laura Monterrosa ingested “51 pain pills that were left in her possession by medical staff” on January 11, according to the immigrant rights group Grassroots Leadership. They say authorities neglected to provide medical treatment for “several hours” and moved Monterrosa to solitary confinement afterward.
Detention officials refused to let Monterrosa receive community or legal visitors until the afternoon of January 13 and would not say if she received emergency treatment.
Monterrosa remained in isolation until members of the public, including representatives of Congress, fought for her release. Organizers believe an inquiry into her health made by Democratic Rep. Lloyd Doggett contributed to her release from solitary.
Detention staff interrogated her for skipping meals in the dining hall because that is where she would encounter the guard that abused her.
A “resident counseling report” [PDF] from January 4 stated Monterrosa was eating in her dorm. She couldn’t avoid the dining hall entirely because she didn’t have money to buy food from the commissary. She said she was not on hunger strike.
When Monterrosa explained this, the case manager said they were “not asking about anything else” except whether she had eaten her meals. “You can go to dining and scan for fruit and bring it back with you. You don’t have to stay in dining,” the manager said.
“I am afraid that I am going to run into [the guard],” Monterrosa replied. “I have run into her in the dining and in recreation and that is why I have not gone there. I have encountered in the hallways. I am afraid that I am going to run into her again.”
“I have to make sure that residents ate something, that is why I am asking,” the case manager said. “Can no one send you any money as they were before?”
Monterrosa said, “No,” and the case manager said, “Just understand that if you miss two meals again, I will be talking to you again.”
“I already told you why I am not going to dining,” Monterrosa responded. “It is a very strong reason why I am not going to dining. The investigator said to confess everything and that I was never going to see [the guard] again. But that didn’t happen because I still see her in the hallways and in the dining.”
The case manager refused to further discuss Monterrosa’s situation. “I am just asking why you have not gone to dining,” they said. “I will pass this on to the person who I have to give these reports to.”
In a statement released Sunday, Monterrosa said she felt “very desperate” because she tried to report the abuse but immigration and detention officials “continue to psychologically abuse me through intimidation.”
“I do not feel safe or secure,” she said, adding she is not receiving the medical treatment or help she needs.
Swept Under the Rug
Monterrosa is incarcerated at the T. Don Hutto Residential Center in Taylor, Texas—an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facility operated by the private prison operator CoreCivic (formerly known as Corrections Corporation of America). Around 500 women are detained there. Nearly all are seeking asylum after fleeing violence in their home countries.
In November 2017, Monterrosa spoke out about repeated sexual harassment and assault by a guard at Hutto. She reported the incidents to ICE and Williamson County Sheriff’s deputies. Yet, she was treated with suspicion while the guard was allowed to continue working.
Monterrosa described retaliation for speaking out about her abuse, including threats of deportation or transfer to other facilities. At least two other women came forward about their own sexual victimization and retaliation by guards since then.
Grassroots Leadership is organizing to have Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn look into these cases. They want ICE to release Monterrosa while the investigation continues.
“Despite our best efforts, we have yet to be updated as to the real status of this investigation,” said Bob Libal, executive director of Grassroots Leadership. “As far we know, these allegations have just been swept under the rug.”
The FBI took over the investigation in December. Bethany Carson, a researcher and organizer for Grassroots Leadership, told Shadowproof she was not aware of FBI agents visiting Hutto since intervening in the investigation.
According to Carson, the FBI has yet to interview Monterrosa.
“There are enough eyes looking at this that something should have happened already to make sure that Laura is in a safe place,” said Carson. “No victim of sexual abuse should be forced to live with their abuser.”
Claudia Muñoz, programs director at Grassroots Leadership, called the case “heart-wrenching.”
“It’s just inhumane to force this victim of sexual abuse to have to relive that abuse everyday by being forced to confront her abuser over and over again,” she said. “Laura can’t escape this pain. She can’t get the treatment she needs.”