“What happens if you privatize prisons is that you have a large industry with a vested interest in building ever-more prisons.” -- Molly Ivins, 2003

Somali Refugees Beaten by ICE Speak Out

As an update to our previous story, “LaSalle Guards Beat, Pepper Sprayed African Asylum Seekers,” The Intercept reported on the grave abuses suffered by 30 Somali refugees through the story of one of the survivors, Guled Muhumed, this month. Muhumed had spent six months in ICE custody in eleven different facilities. He arrived to the West Texas Detention Facility, operated by LaSalle Corrections, on February 23.

The article described his arrival: “For Muhumed and the others, the apparent threat they posed in the eyes of detention center officials translated to being housed in moldy cells, cut off from other detainees, where the heavy smell of pepper spray lingered. ‘We didn’t go outside until maybe, like, five days into our stay,’ Muhumed said. ‘I started noticing everyone else was getting sick.”’

Muhumed was deported back to Somalia on early Thursday morning, March 29. He and the other thirty men spoke out prior to their deportation. “Their testimonials were compiled in a 23-page report that painted a profoundly disturbing picture of ICE contractors drunk on power. All of the men reported having been pepper-sprayed during their week in detention, and nearly half described physical abuse. One of the men claimed the warden of the facility punched him in the face repeatedly while he was in the nurse’s office. Another said guards repeatedly fondled his penis while he was pushed up against a wall.”

Following the incident, the San Antonio Express-News Editorial Board wrote an editorial on March 28, “Brutal conditions must be investigated.” Critiquing the private prison industry, the editorial team wrote:

“Running prisons — or immigrant centers — for private profit will, in our view, inevitably lead to cutting corners and unfair treatment. If these allegations are proven true, the decision to continue prisons for profit should be re-examined and the private contract in Sierra Blanca canceled. In fact, private prisons warrant examination even if the allegations aren’t borne out.”

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Laura Monterrosa Released from T. Don Hutto Detention Center

Following a four month campaign and mounting community pressure, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) released Laura Monterrosa from T. Don Hutto Detention Center on Friday, March 16.

This victory came after Monterrosa reported sexual assault by a CoreCivic (formerly CCA, or Corrections Corporation of America) guard in November. While ICE and the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office claimed to investigate her case and find no substantiation, the FBI opened an investigation in December. In the months that followed, Monterrosa faced increasing retaliation within the center, including 60 hours of solitary confinement under threat of indefinite isolation unless she recanted her testimony.

Monterrosa then sued ICE for her release on the grounds that she had not been provided adequate medical care, including psychological evaluation or treatment. The parties settled for her to receive outpatient therapy once per week.

Congressional representatives also acted to bring attention to the issue of sexual assault in Texas detention facilities. As the Austin American-Statesman reported, “U.S. Reps. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, and Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, wrote to immigration officials last month asking them to ‘direct an investigation of ICE’s handling of sexual assault cases in Texas immigration detention facilities.’” The letter mentioning Monterrosa’s case was signed by 44 congressional representatives. In the final days of the campaign, the community called on Beto O’Rourke to intervene in the case and made a direct call to Daniel Bible, San Antonio Field Director for ICE. O’Rourke said in his interview with the Texas Observer, “For me the really amazing thing is all these people in Texas, really different parts of the state … this network of people who came together to make sure she was OK.”

As the Texas Observer reported, Laura’s case showed that it is possible to win under the Trump administration. “A lot of people have stopped organizing because they don’t think it’s possible now,” Claudia Muñoz, immigration programs director at Grassroots Leadership, said. “But you have to be willing to try; it might not work, but people are being deported either way.”

Laura received deferred action and continues to advocate for the women detained in Hutto. “Now that we can claim this victory, we can achieve more because this is not just about me, there are 500 women inside suffering right now. We should keep fighting for them and their liberation. With the help of all of you, we can achieve this and much more. I  know that everyone together, we can achieve a great triumph,” she said at a press conference on March 26.

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LaSalle Guards Beat, Pepper Sprayed African Asylum Seekers

In a shocking report, advocates exposed that 80 African detainees were subjected to physical and psychological torture by guards employed by private prison company LaSalle Corrections at the West Texas Detention Facility in Sierra Blanca. The San Antonio Express-News reported that the evidence for the report came from interviews with 30 men from Somalia who are now being held in Coastal Bend Detention Center in Robstown. The men reported that the guards pepper sprayed, beat, and shouted racial slurs at the men. One man reported being groped by a guard.

“The report also says the men were held at gunpoint and threatened with solitary confinement; one man said an official at the facility told him, ‘Shut your black ass up,’ and others said officials called them ‘monkeys’ and the N word,” the article stated.

The organizations Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES), the Texas A&M School of Law Immigrant Rights Clinic, and the UT School of Law Immigration Clinic have filed complaints with the U.S. Attorney’s office, the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, and the Office of the Inspector General. The coalition, including UndocuBlack, the Detained Migrant Solidarity Committee,  and Committee on American-Islamic Relations San Antonio, have launched a petition to stop the deportations of the Sierra Blanca survivors.

In his article in the Washington Post from May 2017, Martín Méndez Pineda detailed the “hell” of living in West Texas Detention Facility, “There, I experienced the worst days of my life.” This facility was exposed in a Human Rights First report to hold asylum seekers for prolonged periods, particularly under the Trump administration.

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Bats Attack Detainees in Rio Grande

The Texas Tribune reported that two immigrants detained at Rio Grande Detention Center suffered bat bites earlier this month. The private immigrant prison, operated by GEO Group, At least one person was undergoing treatment in case the bat could infect with rabies. Immigration and Customs Enforcement confirmed the bites while it stated the facility was undergoing a “thorough inspection and abatement plan.”

“One bite occurred at around 1 a.m. Sunday at the Rio Grande Detention Center in Webb County, according to San Antonio-based immigration attorney Laura Figueroa. Her client, Yonathan Eduardo Morales Galviz, was taken to the hospital at about 3:30 a.m. that day and then taken back to the facility soon after,” the article stated.

In an article by San Antonio Express-News, Figueroa commented that her client has been moved to a different dormitory that also has bats. She said, “You have guards that were telling detainees, ‘Oh, we know about this bat problem. Just kill them and we'll open the back door so you can dispose of the bats.’”

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