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January 2018

Iraqi man in detention punished for protesting for his rights

The Daily Beast reported this month that an Iraqi asylum seeker has gone on hunger strike twice to protest his treatment at Laredo Processing Center in Laredo, Texas. Safaa’s wife, Zinah Al Shakarchi, told the Daily Beast that “he is broken” after officials retaliated against him for hunger striking. Guards put him in solitary confinement with freezing cell temperatures, threatened to cut off his phone calls with his wife, and threatened to force feed him, eventually breaking his strike.


Laredo Processing Center, run by private prison company CoreCivic (formerly Corrections Corporation of America, or CCA), was upheld in December 2017 in a report issued by the Office of the Inspector General stating that detainees were “generally positive about staff treating them with respect.” ICE would not answer any questions regarding the guards’ punishment of Saafa for going on hunger strike.

Detainees have gone on hunger strike in other facilities to protest inhumane detention conditions in Texas in Brooks County Detention Facility, in Karnes Family Detention Center in 2015, and in Hutto Detention Center in 2015.

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Immigrant mother attempts suicide after speaking out about sexual assault in detention

The Outline reported on an exclusive interview with Laura Monterrosa, survivor of sexual assault at T. Don Hutto Detention Center, regarding her experience in speaking out while being confined in “hell.” Detailing her life story from El Salvador to the U.S./Mexico border, Monterrosa speaks of the life-threatening persecution she faced as an LGBT woman. “At ICE facilities across the country, immigrants often face the same abuse they fled in their home countries,” the data on ICE’s sexual assault problem reveals.

When she arrived to the United States and was subsequently detained, the abuse she knew from El Salvador only repeated itself. After learning of Monterrosa’s sexual orientation, a guard began touching her. “My hope disappeared in that moment. I didn’t think that, in the place where I was seeking refuge, the same thing would happen as in my country,” Monterrosa told The Outline.

The abuse worsened when Monterrosa faced retaliation for speaking out against the abuse. She has since been threatened with administrative discipline for refusing to eat in the same area as her abuser. “A week after we last spoke, Monterrosa tried to kill herself by overdosing on pain medication that had been left in her room by Hutto medical staff,” the article stated. Monterrosa survived the attempt with continuing health implications.

The article notes the history of abuse at the facility: in 2010, a guard named Donald Dunn was prosecuted for groping several women detained at Hutto while transporting them. Two other women also came forward when Monterrosa reported the abuse in November.

Immigration advocates rally to include detainees in #MeToo

National media drew attention to stories of sexual assault in Texas detention facilities in January as part of the #MeToo movement. On January 8, the Associated Press published an article detailing the rampant issue of sexual abuse in detention facilities nationally and the failure of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to investigate of these claims. The article highlights the story of Laura Monterrosa, who came forward publicly on November 9 to speak out against sexual assault at T. Don Hutto Detention Center in Taylor, Texas run by CoreCivic (formerly Corrections Corporation of America, or CCA).

The article details that according to the advocacy organization CIVIC, between May 2014 and July 2016, DHS received 1,043 complaints of sexual abuse, and “investigated less than 3 percent of the sexual abuse complaints it received during that same time period.” Many instances of abuse also go unreported due to threat of retaliation against victims who file a complaint. Speaking from her experience, Laura Monterrosa said, "Women are forced to do what they say or stay silent out of fear." Monterrosa was joined by two other women who also spoke out against sexual assault they experienced while detained at T. Don Hutto detention center. According to the article, four reports of sexual abuse were filed by women detained at Hutto in the last fiscal year, and the facility is known for abuse in the past.

Despite alleged protection for those who speak out under the Prison Rape Elimination Act, Monterrosa has faced increasing retaliation. The FBI has an open investigation on Monterrosa’s case. Advocates are calling for her release so "she can live in peace and recover from this new trauma she experienced at the hands of those responsible for ensuring her safety.” We will continue reporting on this developing story.

Women Stuck in Hutto Detention Center

The Austin Chronicle reported in January that female asylum seekers are being detained in Hutto Detention Center without a court date. As we reported about the backlog in immigration cases in Laredo this month, the San Antonio court currently faces a 31-month lag in court dates for immigrants with 26,460 cases are currently pending. This number marks “a new high,” according to the Trans­ac­tion­al Records Access Clearing­house.

Meanwhile, the Austin Chronicle article shared the story of women like Celia (a pseudonym) who has no hearing date for her asylum case. Her lawyer Virginia Raymond says that she sees Celia carrying "utter despair."

Sofia Casini, immigration programs coordinator with Grassroots Leadership, commented that this situation represents a departure from a usual backlog. "There aren't too many cases on the docket; there's hundreds of cases not on the docket. That's not normal in any legal context… They are getting no information at all about essentially their life sentence," Casini said. "It's hard to explain just how completely unjust and abnormal that is."

While the Trump administration plans to increase detention capacity and add more immigration judges to fix the system, Casini commented that the ultimate goal is for closure of detention facilities. "The system is unnecessary and unjust in the first place. All these women locked up in Hutto don't need to be there. There are friends, family, and community groups like Casa Marianella here in Austin that can take them in. Instead, they are trapped in a cell, and left in the dark,” she said.

The article also commented that private prison giant CoreCivic (formerly Corrections Corporation of America, or CCA) will profit from the disarray of the legal system. Last fall, “CoreCivic's CEO said ICE expects the average length of detentions to jump as a result of increased interior enforcement, an outcome that benefits their profit margin.”

Meanwhile, the FBI’s investigation of sexual assault in Hutto Detention Center is pending and Laura Monterrosa remains detained after she spoke out in November against abuse by a CoreCivic guard.

Image source: Tray Frazier, Grassroots Leadership

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Detainees Lost in Court in Laredo

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The Texas Tribune reported in collaboration with the Marshall Project and This American Life that immigration court in Laredo has lost track of immigrants’ files. The court’s disarray took place in the Laredo Processing Center operated by CoreCivic (formerly Corrections Corporation of America, or CCA).

In the case of asylum seeker Oscar Arnulfo Ramírez, the court clerk lost record that he was still detained. “It’s as if he’s non-existent,” Ramírez, lawyer, Paola Tostado, told the Texas Tribune. “He’s still in a detention center… But there’s no proceeding going on. He’s just sitting there doing completely nothing.” Tostado also reported in December that she had two other clients delayed in their hearings with no court date “for more than seven months.

Reporters spent one week in the facility in October and found that detainees were “lost in the system for months on end,” prolonging their detention and leading to chaos in the small, windowless courtroom. “Hearing schedules were erratic, case files went missing,” the article stated.

The backlog of immigration cases, especially along the Texas/Mexico border, has kept populations high in privately owned detention centers.

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Deaths in Detention Marks Eight-Year High in 2017

Image Source: Detention Watch Network and IMM Print

The Houston Chronicle reported on January 12 that the death toll in detention reached an eight-year high in 2017 with a total of twelve deaths. "The number of deaths in 2017 has alarmed immigration activists, who have long accused immigration officials and detention center operators of providing delayed or substandard medical care and ignoring complaints of illness,” the article stated.

The article featured the story of Felipe Almazan-Ruiz, who passed away on September 17 from cardiac arrest. Almazan-Ruiz was transferred from Florida to Livingston, Texas, following Hurricane Irma. The article also featured a map of all deaths in detention centers since ICE was created in 2003.

“Simply put, detention and deportation are a deadly business,” Bob Libal, executive director of Grassroots Leadership, said. Libal commented that the “high-profile failings of the detention system in Texas” present major concerns when considering ICE’s plans to increase the number of detainees in privately owned facilities. This year, ICE plans to open a 1,000-bed for-profit detention center in Conroe, adjacent to Joe Corley Detention Facility.

This “deadly business” was investigated by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in December. The OIG report stated: "Overall, the problems we identified undermine the protection of detainees' rights, their humane treatment, and the provision of a safe and healthy environment.” The investigators visited Laredo Processing Center along with five other facilities, and found that several facilities had inadequate medical care and misused solitary confinement, contributing to detainees’ health issues and deaths.

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Federal Elections Commission sued for Trump profiting from GEO Group

Law and Crime reported on January 10 that the Campaign Legal Center (CLC) filed a lawsuit against the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) for delaying enforcement of federal law in favor of private prison companies. The lawsuit alleges that the FEC has allowed private prison company GEO Group to contribute to the pro-Trump Super PAC against “the 75-year-old prohibition on government contractors making political contributions.”

During the 2016 general election, GEO Group contributed $225,000 in funding to the Super PAC. Following the election, the Trump administration then reversed the Obama administration’s decision to phase out private prisons. In April 2017, the administration granted its first contract to GEO Group in the amount of $110 million to build and administer a new detention center in Conroe, Texas.

The article quoted Brendan Fischer from the Campaign Legal Center: “If the FEC doesn’t enforce the 75-year-old contractor contribution ban against companies like GEO Group, then taxpayer-funded contracts become an obvious way for politicians to reward their deep-pocketed campaign supporters. As the FEC continues to delay taking action, GEO continues buying influence with illegal contributions. With the 2018 elections quickly approaching, the FEC must make clear that private prison companies and other contractors cannot expect to violate the law and get away with it.”

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Bloomberg News reported back in February 2017 that GEO Group donated to the Trump campaign following the Obama administration’s announcement that it would phase out private prisons. “GEO’s stock plunged 40 percent on that news,” Bloomberg stated. “The stock shot back up after the election of Trump, who made campaign statements supporting private prisons.”

CoreCivic (formerly Corrections Corporation of America, or CCA) also donated $250,000 to Trump’s campaign. Private prison companies have also been known to hire well-paid lobbyists to influence Texas legislation and donate to state campaigns.



Freezing Overnight Temperatures at Brooks County Detention Center

During a bitter cold spell in Texas, prisoners at Brooks County Detention Center lacked heating in the first days of the new year. According to KRGV, the conditions at the facility “are improving” after the facility lacked heat and blasted air conditioning instead. The facility, operated by GEO Group, detains immigrants under custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the U.S. Marshals Service.

“People are walking around with boxes on their heads, socks on their arms just trying to keep themselves warm. We don't have no sweaters,” a detainee told KRGV. The article also stated that some people refused to eat because the cafeteria further exposed people to the cold, though ICE would not comment on the hunger strike. 

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The U.S. Marshals Service issued the following comment: "Some inmates had expressed grievances about the temperatures by refusing to eat breakfast Wednesday morning. The facility confirms all inmates are safe and eating their issued meals." 

This news comes at the heels of Hurricane Harvey, when media could not confirm that the facility evacuated detainees in the path of the storm. Rep. Lloyd Doggett has since filed an inquiry with the Bureau of Prisons about the treatment of prisoners in Texas following the hurricane.

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