Laura Monterrosa, an asylum seeker who fled physical and sexual abuse in El Salvador and escaped to the U.S., has been held in the T. Don Hutto Residential Center, an immigration jail in Texas, since last summer. She has also spoken publicly about the sexual abuse she says she has experienced during her confinement.
On Tuesday night, the advocacy organization Grassroots Leadership issued a press release alleging that, over the weekend, Monterrosa was locked in solitary confinement for 60 hours and “told she would not be released from solitary confinement until she publicly stated that she had not been sexually abused.”
Hutto is run by CoreCivic, a private prison company. In January, Monterrosa told The Outline that she had been abused by a female guard there for months, and that other guards had known about it. Monterrosa had initially published an anonymous letter detailing her abuse in November. Then, CoreCivic guards, who were tipped off by an anonymous call, interviewed her. She was also interviewed by ICE officials and the local sheriff’s office. “They treated me like I wasn’t a victim — like I was a criminal,” Monterrosa told The Outline. ICE and the sheriff’s office both closed the case.
The FBI picked up the investigation in December. According to Grassroots Leadership, “Over the past four months, community advocates have witnessed ICE and CoreCivic’s retaliation tactics against Laura escalate from verbal aggression to threats of administrative discipline and indefinite periods of confinement. On Monday, ICE officials attempted to silence Laura by terrorizing her with threats of continuous isolation.”
I have reached out to both ICE and the Hutto detention center for comment and will update this post when I hear back.
Update, 4:46 PM: Grassroots Leadership forwarde Splinter an email written on Monday from its immigration policy researcher, Bethany Carson. The email contains an account of a a visit by Claudia Muñoz, the group’s immigration programs director, with Monterrosa. In one section, Muñoz says that Monterrosa told her that when she came out of an “isolation room,” an official “told her if she didn’t want to go back...she had to say that everything was made up and she’s been lying to everyone and she had to convince me to go public with the story that everything she had previously said was false.” In addition, the email claims, the official “told her to tell us they gave her pills for her stomach and mental health even though they did not. He said if we didn’t publicize that new story or if she told us the truth they would put her in solitary again.”
Update, 5:12 PM: ICE responded with the following statement:
On Feb. 9, ICE received information that Laura Monterrosa-Flores was taken to the ICE T. Don Hutto Residential Center medical unit for evaluation after staff became aware of a self-reported medical situation. Monterrosa-Flores was kept in medical for close observation. On Monday she was returned to the general population. During the time she was in medical observation, Monterrosa-Flores was in communication with her attorney. In addition, ICE offered to transfer Monterrosa-Flores to another facility but she declined the offer.
Additional reporting by Jorge Rivas.