(SAN ANTONIO, TX) – Two women who say they were sexually abused by guards while detained at a Texas immigration center are demanding an investigation into the mishandling of their cases, according to civil rights attorneys.
MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund) sent a letter today to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on behalf of Laura Monterrosa-Flores, and S.G.S, both of whom allege that they suffered abuse while held at the T. Don Hutto Residential Center in Taylor, Texas, according to the letter.
The women reported the abuse to officials in late 2017, but the employees were allowed to remain working among the immigrants at the facility despite the complaints.
“With the ongoing efforts and successes of the ‘me too’ movement, we must ensure that those in immigration detention are protected as well,” said Thomas A. Saenz, MALDEF president and general counsel. “In detention facilities that are consciously secluded from significant public view, immigrant women face serious threats, and our nation must act to ensure that they are protected from predators with significant power to intimidate and violate.”
In its letter to DHS, MALDEF says Hutto officials ignored detention standards and the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), a law imposing standards on jails and federal detention centers as a way to detect, prevent, and respond to sexual abuse.
The violations outlined in the letter include the failure to prevent or adequately address the sexual abuse, and the failure to take appropriate steps to prevent sexual abuse of other detainees.
MALDEF is demanding that DHS re-open the cases and conduct a PREA audit of the facility.
“Hutto has no business remaining open as long as our government continues to detain women that it is unwilling or unable to protect,” said Celina Moreno, MALDEF’s interim Southwest Regional Counsel. “Not only is the Trump administration terrorizing mothers by tearing them apart from their children, it is locking them up in facilities like Hutto that have a long history of abuse.”
Monterrosa-Flores, an asylum seeker, was detained at Hutto from May 2017 to March 2018. She said an employee at the facility engaged in a sexual act with her and then threatened her into maintaining her silence, according to the letter.
S.G.S., a woman who did not want her name used, was detained at Hutto from June to October 2017. She was repeatedly subjected to unwanted sexual comments and actions by an employee, the letter states. After she reported the abuse, she was transferred to another facility but never provided information about U visas available to victims of crimes.
Hutto has a notorious history of mistreating detainees. A former state prison, it was repurposed as a family detention center that was the subject of a lawsuit for failing, among other claims, to provide adequate health care and educational opportunities for children. That suit resulted in a settlement, and Hutto was later converted to house only adult women.
However, the abuse of detainees continued at Hutto. A federal immigration agent was fired in 2007 for having sex with a female detainee in her cell, and widespread allegations of sexual assault surfaced after a guard was charged in 2009 with assaulting women he was transporting.
MALDEF has filed similar complaints against other Texas detention centers. In 2014, attorneys demanded an investigation into sexual abuse complaints filed by mothers and children against employees at a detention facility in Karnes City, Texas.