An immigrant rights group is renewing calls for the Department of Homeland Security to investigate T. Don Hutto Residential Center, a detention facility in Taylor, Texas, known for its history of sexual abuse allegations.
On Tuesday, advocates from the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund addressed a letter to DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and other administration officials on behalf of two women—asylum-seeker Laura Monterrosa-Flores and another woman, whom they identify only as S.G.S.—who both say they were sexually abused, harassed, and intimidated by guards at the T. Don Hutto facility who continue to work there.
In the letter, MALDEF demands that DHS reopen the investigation into their alleged mistreatment, which appeared to be ongoing at the time DHS released Monterrosa-Flores from detention in March. MALDEF has also called on the government department to release findings from any Prison Rape Elimination Act investigation into the facility, which would evaluate whether T. Don Hutto was complying with the federal rules for protecting incarcerated people from sexual assault while in detention.
"With the ongoing efforts and successes of the #MeToo movement, we must ensure that those in immigration detention are protected as well,” MALDEF president and general counsel Thomas A. Saenz said in a statement. “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.”
It's hardly the first time a group has attempted to put public pressure on DHS to investigate T. Don Hutto. In February, 45 Democratic representatives in Congress penned their own letter to Nielsen asking the Trump administration to investigate the litany of sexual abuse allegations brought against the facility and its staff. At the time, Monterrosa-Flores, who had not yet been released from detention, was reportedly suicidal after enduring an alleged four months of sexual abuse from a female guard, and the FBI had an ongoing civil rights probe looking into her case.
"Complaints of sexual abuse by guards and subsequent retaliation by ICE following victim grievances are disturbing and unacceptable," Texas Representative Lloyd Doggett said in a February press release. "Many of these victims are refugees seeking asylum, fleeing prior traumatic experiences. Basic human decency requires that they not be abused here."
The reports of sexual abuse associated with T. Don Hutto extend far beyond Monterrosa-Flores's and S.G.S's allegations. In 2007, an immigration official was fired for allegedly sexually assaulting a woman while her son was sleeping inside the cell. In 2009, a T. Don Hutto guard was charged with assaulting a woman he was transporting. In perhaps the most egregious case, an escort officer and resident supervisor was said to have assaulted eight women, all asylum-seekers from South and Central America fleeing dangerous conditions in their home countries.
Despite the facility's disturbing record of sexual misconduct, the Trump administration saw T. Don Hutto fit to house dozens of women who had recently been separated from their children under the administration's immigration policy. On Tuesday, however, advocacy groups scored a major victory when Williamson County Commissioners Court voted to end the government's contract with T. Don Hutto. That doesn't mean the fight is over: As of earlier this week, some 35 women still remained in detention there as a result of family separation.
"This is an important step forward in the fight for justice at Hutto and a victory for all who have raised their voices," Bethany Carson, an immigration organizer and researcher at the Texas-based Grassroots Leadership, said in a statement. “However, there is still much to do. We must first fight to ensure that every woman at Hutto, including all of the moms who have had their kids taken from them, are released from the facility immediately.”
DHS did not respond to Broadly's emailed requests for comment.