A private immigrant detention center in Texas failed to provide mental health treatment to a woman who said she was sexually abused by a guard, according to expert testimony in federal court on March 13.
The testimony from two professionals who conducted mental health assessments of the victim led immigration officials to enter a settlement in which they agreed to provide care. The next day, however, they tried to deport her.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the private prison contractor CoreCivic agreed to the settlement after a hearing before Judge Robert Pitman for the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas. The settlement stipulated officials will provide 23 year-old Laura Monterrosa with outside mental health treatment on a weekly basis for post-traumatic stress disorder and depression.
The hearing focused on Monterrosa’s petition for a writ of habeas corpus and a temporary restraining order, but Judge Pitman denied her release.
On March 14, ICE allegedly attempted to force Monterrosa to sign papers that would initiate her deportation, but she refused. At the time of this writing, advocates from the local immigrant rights group Grassroots Leadership are at the Austin campaign offices of United States Representative Beto O’Rourke, demanding an intervention. They say she could be deported at any moment.
Rep. O’Rourke’s chief of staff told organizers they contacted the Department of Homeland Security and are awaiting a response. “We’re here at the office and will be here till we hear that Laura will be released,” said Bethany Carson, a researcher and organizer with the group.
“Laura is facing a life or death situation, every day in detention and even more so if she is deported,” said immigration programs director Claudia Muñoz. “We are calling on Rep. Beto O’Rourke to be a champion for Laura and all the women at Hutto.
“We cannot accept that a woman seeking asylum in our country can be sexually assaulted and disappeared with impunity. We need Rep. O’Rourke to fulfill his promise to fight for Laura meet with DHS Secretary Nielson and secure Laura’s release.”
The settlement would seem to contradict ICE’s claims that Monterrosa’s health care has been adequate and comprehensive. The agency’s efforts to deport her following the settlement typifies their efforts to coerce her into silence.
Monterrosa, who is from El Salvador and is currently incarcerated at the T. Don Hutto Residential Center in Taylor, Texas, first went public with allegations of repeated sexual harassment and assault she experienced at the hands of a guard in November 2017. Since then, two more women have come forward with their own stories of abuse. All three say they have experienced retaliation, including threats of deportation and transfer to other facilities away from their support networks.
Monterrosa, in particular, was placed in solitary confinement on two occasions as her mental health deteriorated. She was isolated following a suicide attempt in January and again in February, when she said officials kept her in solitary for 60 hours and refused to release her until she recanted her claims. The suicide attempt came after she was threatened with punishment for refusing to go to the dining hall, where she would frequently run into her abuser.
When Shadowproof previously inquired about Monterrosa’s treatment, an ICE spokesperson denied she was in solitary confinement, arguing the facility “does not have any rooms for segregation.” Instead, they claimed she was in “medical observation” in response to her health care needs.
The local immigrant rights group Grassroots Leadership has repeatedly argued ICE is using “medical care” as a cover for their retaliation and insisted Monterrosa’s health care needs were not being met. They have staged protests and arranged visitation with lawmakers at Hutto. They’ve also testified at county commissioner meetings and circulated petitions demanding her release. A city council member was arbitrarily denied access to the facility in February when he tried to visit Monterrosa.
The FBI is investigating the incident after local law enforcement refused to take action, arguing they lacked jurisdiction over the facility.