An incarcerated immigrant woman, who alleged sexual harassment and assault by a corrections officer, said she was thrown in solitary confinement for 60 hours and was told she would not be released until she publicly recanted her accusations.
Laura Monterrosa is a 23 year old immigrant from El Salvador detained at the T. Don Hutto Residential Center, a private prison operated by CoreCivic (formerly known as Corrections Corporation of America).
Grassroots Leadership, a Texas-based immigrant rights group advocating on behalf of Monterrosa, said she was isolated between 11:00 PM on Friday, February 9, and 11:00 AM on Monday, February 12. She was threatened with more isolation if she didn’t publicly state she was not sexually abused by staff.
“This should not be happening in America,” said Claudia Muñoz, immigration programs director at Grassroots Leadership. “Here you have a woman who came forward to report rampant sexual abuse inside of a federal facility. Instead of protecting her and ensuring the abuse stops, ICE is now putting Laura in solitary confinement with the expressed intent of tearing her down so she will do as they say.”
“This is against the law,” Muñoz continued. “There is an ongoing FBI investigation, and ICE is trying to convince this witness to change her story. This is one of the most egregious abuses I have ever witnessed.”
Two other women came forward to publicly accuse corrections officers of sexual abuse after Monterrosa. All three said they faced retaliation in the form of threats of deportation or transfer to other facilities far from their support networks.
The FBI took over the investigation into Monterrosa’s claims in December after advocates said local law enforcement failed to act. In January, Monterrosa attempted suicide by ingesting pain pills after learning she could be punished for skipping meals in an attempt to avoid her abuser.
Bethany Carson, an immigration researcher and organizer with Grassroots Leadership, said, “One ICE official named Soto specifically demanded Laura call me and tell me she was no longer going to work with us. The ICE official went as far as telling her that he expected her to recant her claim to the media or else she would be locked up again in solitary confinement indefinitely.”
ICE released a statement in response to questions from Shadowproof about Monterrosa. ICE claimed she was taken to the medical unit for evaluation “after staff became aware of a self-reported medical situation.”
She was “kept in medical for close observation” and returned to the general population on Monday. “During the time she was in medical observation, Monterrosa was in communication with her attorney. In addition, ICE offered to transfer Monterrosa to another facility, but she declined the offer.”
“The T. Don Hutto facility does not have any rooms for segregation,” ICE claimed. “In cases where the health of an ICE detainee may be in jeopardy as determined by health care professionals, ICE may keep these individuals under observation in the facility medical department, where they can be closely monitored.”
“ICE fully respects the rights of all people to voice their opinion without interference. The Department of Homeland Security remains committed to sensible, effective immigration enforcement.”
Carson reacted to this statement, saying she was “flabbergasted at the extent that ICE continues to lie about this.”
“Laura was not given medical care while she was isolated, and she said clearly she was in one of the rooms by booking, not medical,” Carson shared. (Note: Organizers spoke with a woman who was previously incarcerated at Hutto and who verified the existence of these rooms.)
Carson asserted Monterrosa was placed in isolation shortly after an FBI investigator visited the prison and argued it couldn’t have been for medical reasons because guards barely ensured Monterrosa had enough food to eat.
Pointing to recent false statements from ICE about the number of people impacted by an immigration raid in Austin, Carson said, “At this point, they have been proven to lie to the public.”
Advocates continue to call for her release from detention. They now urge the public to call the Taylor Police Department and request an investigation into ICE’s intimidation of Laura and to “do everything in their power to investigate ICE for witness tampering and obstruction of justice as ICE violates Laura’s civil rights.”
Members of the community spent the day outside Hutto on Wednesday, February 14, to show solidarity with Monterrosa.
“ICE may think they can act with impunity,” Muñoz declared. But the community will “show them just how many people actually do care about her and will do everything they can to see that she is freed.”