At least 27 women in a Texas immigration detention center have started a hunger strike and are demanding their release, an advocacy group in the state said Wednesday.
The women, who are being kept in the T. Don Hutto Detention Center in Taylor, Texas, refused dinner Wednesday night, according to Texans United for Families.
Detention center officials disputed the report. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesperson Adelina Pruneda said in an email that administrators were not aware of any detainees who had refused dinner at the facility cafeteria.
"That's what they always say," Cristina Parker, an activist with Texans United for Families, told me. "It doesn't surprise me that ICE would say that."
The group posted a Facebook album of handwritten Spanish letters from the women declaring their intention to begin the hunger strike. Most of them are from Central America, and some have been detained for more than a year. They write about living in poor conditions and say they're scared of returning to their countries, where they faced domestic violence.
"The food they give us is very foul," one woman wrote. "Every time I eat it, I experience lots of stomach pain. There are full days that I don't eat anything and being locked up is also causing me much depression."
"The only thing that we ask is an opportunity," wrote another. "We have rights being the human beings that we are."
Parker said that her group has not been in contact with the women since they said they would begin the strike, but that they had talked to several of the women who confirmed their intentions to strike. The group plans to hold a vigil for the detainees each night.
The detention center is run by private prison company Corrections Corporation of America. It used to house families but now is women-only.
The hunger strike, which was first reported by The Monitor, a local newspaper, will continue indefinitely, the women said in their letters. "They have one demand and only one demand and that is to be released," Parker said.
Last week, 54 South Asian detainees in an El Paso center also held a hunger strike. Some other immigrant detainees who went on hunger strikes have faced retaliation, ThinkProgress reported, including cutting off communication between detainees and their families.
This post has been updated with comment from Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Texans United for Families.
Casey Tolan is a National News Reporter for Fusion based in New York City.