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Congressional letter calls for investigation of T. Don Hutto

On Monday, February 26, a group of 43 Democratic representatives sent a letter urging Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to take immediate action to stop sexual assault in Texas detention facilities. The letter calls for a review of the agency’s handling of sexual assault complaints and an expedited audit T. Don Hutto Detention Center following three women’s recent public complaints of abuse by guards.

Texas Congressmen Lloyd Doggett and Joaquin Castro spearheaded the congressional letter as a call to action. Representative Doggett said in a press release, "Many of these victims are refugees seeking asylum, fleeing prior traumatic experiences. Basic human decency requires that they not be abused here."

Newsweek reported that the letter calls for an expedited Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) audit of T. Don Hutto Detention Center, where Laura Monterrosa has been detained for nine months and faces increasing retaliation after speaking out about sexual assault. The article details the continual abuse that Laura is suffering from within detention: “Monterrosa was also reportedly denied mental health counseling on multiple occasions. Such action would be in violation of the Prison Rape Elimination Act, which states that corrections facilities have to offer treatment and counseling to survivors of sexual assault while in detention.”

In February, Laura Monterrosa was put in solitary confinement for over 60 hours and was threatened with indefinite confinement unless she would recant her accusation of abuse. The Independent stated that ICE denied she was placed in solitary confinement.

In a recording published by Democracy Now!, Laura called Bethany Carson from Grassroots Leadership on an unidentifiable number once she was released. Laura was being pressured to cut ties with her advocates and retract her testimony. Carson stated, “This is incredibly egregious that they are trying to silence a victim of sexual assault in this way.”

Community advocates have since mobilized support to visit Laura to keep her out of solitary confinement. The Guardian reported that “50 people protested this week outside the Hutto detention center in Texas, in support of the woman, Laura Monterrosa,” according to Grassroots Leadership. Community members have also testified before Williamson County Commissioner’s Court to end their contract for the facility with CoreCivic given the troubling history of sexual assault in the facility (formerly Corrections Corporation of America or CCA).

Salon reported that, in addition to the congressional representatives, three Austin city council members wrote a letter to ICE. City council member Gregorio Casar was publicly turned away from visiting in the facility when officials “were worried he would speak to the press about his visit.” The three council members demanded that ICE "release Ms. Monterrosa immediately" and questioned the agency’s decision to turn away Casar’s visit. The video of the event has since gone viral with coverage by NowThis.

We will continue to report on developments to the congressional action and Laura Monterrosa’s case, as it remains under open investigation by the FBI.

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Members of Congress Call on DHS to Investigate Sexual Assault in Detention

Immigration advocates joined with congressional representatives to bring attention to the rampant issue of sexual assault in immigrant detention centers. In December, Newsweek reported that 71 members of congress sent a letter to Department of Homeland Security officials to condemn the agency’s failure to investigate claims of assault in detention.

The congressional sign-on letter named several cases of sexual abuse in detention, including the three women who came forward from Hutto Detention Facility in Taylor, Texas.

The national organization Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC) filed a class-action civil rights complaint on April 11 for the Homeland Security’s refusal to disclose records or investigate reports of sexual abuse. “According to CIVIC, Homeland Security received a total of 33,126 complaints of sexual and/or physical abuse from January 2010 to July 2016,” Newsweek reported. Less than one percent of those reports have been investigated, and 75 percent were filed against Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CPB) employees.

While ICE responded to claim that all reports are “investigated thoroughly,” the agency has not responded to CIVIC’s complaint. It also has filed a request with the National Archives and Record Administration to destroy its files of scandals and abuse, including reports of sexual assault, deaths of detainees in custody, and solitary confinement.

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Congressional delegation to visit Texas family detention centers

Congressional Democrats announce their tour of two Texas family detention centers
Congressional Democrats announce their tour of two Texas family detention centers
On Monday June 22 and Tuesday June 23, eight Democratic House members will visit two Texas family detention centers, the GEO-operated Karnes County Residential Center outside of San Antonio, and CCA-operated South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley. The House members announced their trip and expressed concern over the Obama Administration's family detention policy in a press conference held last Thursday.

"It is not illegal to apply for asylum. It is the law of the land," said Rep. Gutierrez.

"Detaining children puts them at risk of mental and developmental problems," said Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer. "The people in these detention centers are...the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free of which Emma Lazarus spoke and which is emblazoned on our Statue of Liberty."

 

The members who will be touring the detention centers are: Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (MD-05), Rep. Joaquin Castro (TX-20), Rep. Judy Chu (CA-27), Rep. Raúl Grijalva (AZ-03), Rep. Luis V. Gutiérrez (IL-04), Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18), Rep. Zoe Lofgren (CA-19), and Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (CA-40). They are among the 136 House Democrats who signed a letter to DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson calling for an end to family detention. 

 

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