A woman who claims she was sexually abused by a guard in a privately-run Texas immigration jail has been placed in solitary confinement in what advocates on her behalf say is part of a pattern of retaliation for going public with her allegations.
Laura Monterrosa, 23, was put in solitary confinement Friday night, and was told Monday that she would face repeated isolated until she publicly retracted her accusations of sexual abuse, according to advocacy group Grassroots Leadership.
“This is incredibly egregious that they are trying to silence a victim of sexual assault in this way,” Bethany Carson, an immigration policy and organising advocate with the group, told The Independent via phone on her way to the Hutto Detention Center to visit with Ms Monterrosa.
The solitary confinement followed after Ms Monterrosa visited the private prison’s medical facility Friday, seeking treatment because she was concerned she might herself after an altercation with a guard that morning. She was later put into solitary confinement in an area of the prison used for booking, and after she was turned away by the medical staff, according to Ms Carson.
A spokesperson for Immigration and Customs Enforcement said in a statement that the detention facility does not have rooms for segregation purposes, and that medical professionals occasionally will keep a patient under observation when deemed necessary.
“On Feb. 9, ICE received information that Laura Monterrosa 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 was kept in medical for close observation,” the spokesperson said in a statement provided to The Independent. “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.”
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Ms Monterrosa, who attempted to take her own life last month, was first detained by US immigration in May after coming to the US from El Salvador, and first came public with her accusations that a female guard had sexually abused her in November.
She has claimed to have been subject to repeated verbal abuse since then, and urged by officials at the facility — which is operated by the private prison corporation Core Civic — to retract her accusations. Ms Monterrosa has also told Grassroots Leadership that she has been denied medications for both her mental health and for a pre-existing condition in her stomach, and urged to tell advocates that she had been receiving the medications.
The FBI took over the investigation late last year, and interviewed Ms Monterrosa for the first time sometime last week.
Prison officials “were just blatantly asking her to lie to us, and completely trying to obstruct the FBI investigation that was happening,” Ms Carson said of the weekend confinement. “So, this is pretty blatant obstruction. And, I’m actually pretty shocked that it has risen to this level, and that [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] is willing to go this far to cover the abuse that has happened in one of its facilities.”
Ms Monterrosa was the first of three women to come forward with accusations that they had been sexually abused in they facility. She remains, however, the only immigrant in the facility to have come forward with her accusations.
Ms Monterrosa’s case is pending a repeal after a judge ordered her removal from the country. Her appeal was submitted last week.
An email to a representative of Rep John Carter, whose district includes the Hutto Detention Facility, was not returned. The FBI confirmed that an ongoing investigation exists, but declined to provide further information on the probe.