Texas county ends immigrant detention contract amid Trump family separation controversy

'They told us they were going to adopt our children out to other people,' woman being held in facility writes, in letter provided to The Independent 

Clark Mindock
New York
Wednesday 27 June 2018 10:22 BST
Mr Trump's immigration policies have sparked outrage across the country
Mr Trump's immigration policies have sparked outrage across the country (AP)

A Texas county has voted to end its contract with a privately run immigrant detention facility as reverberations from President Donald Trump’s controversial policy to separate immigrant families at the border have made their way through American communities and, now, potentially impacted the bottom line of private prison corporations profiting from the incarceration of immigrants.

Williamson County commissioners voted on Tuesday to end their Intergovernmental Services Agreement with US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) over the operations at T Don Hutto Residential Centre, where women immigrants – including asylum seekers – are held.

Under the agreement, the county partnered with private prison company Core Civic, which handled the operation of the facility itself.

The decision comes as national attention has focused on Mr Trump’s family separation policies, which have separated at least 2,300 children from their parents after arriving at the US border since April.

The facility holds about 500 women, and activists say they know of between 35 and 45 women in the facility who had their children removed from them by immigration officials.

“This is very much in response to everything that has been going on,” Cristina Parker, the communications director for the immigration advocacy group Grassroots Leadership, said of the Williamson County decision to cut ties with ICE, which are scheduled to take effect on 31 January.

Ms Parker noted that protests at the facility, which opened in 2006, have not been uncommon.

Allegations by several detainees that they were sexually abused by guards are among the issues that she says have galvanized the local community against the facility.

At least one of those women, Laura Monterrosa, was placed in solitary confinement after she came forward with her allegations. It is unclear if the allegations were investigated.

“I think with everything that has been hitting the news lately – I think it has all sort of crescendoed today into the county feeling that they had to get out of the contract,” Ms Parker said.

Just a day before the commissioners pulled the plug on their agreement with ICE, a letter written by a woman held in the detention centre became public, detailing horrific conditions and treatment by federal immigration officials.

“All the mothers were crying in anguish, distraught from not knowing anything about our children, this is the harshest thing they could do, to take our children from us,” the woman, whose identity is not being disclosed for her own protection, wrote.

“They told us they were going to adopt our children out to other people”.

The woman, an asylum seeker, said that she was not able to speak to her children for 21 days after they were taken from her. During that time, they were taken to a facility in Michigan, the letter says.

“I was in a kennel for eight days without bathing or brushing my teeth, they treated us so horribly as though we were animals,” the letter says.

“Sometimes they punished us and didn’t give us water or food. We slept on the floor and they gave us aluminium paper to cover us. My son says they hit him during the three days immigration had him, and they pulled my little girl’s hair just because she didn’t wake up”.

Mr Trump, following backlash over his so-called “zero-tolerance” family separation policy, signed an executive order last week aimed at ending the separations, which experts worried could lead to lifelong separations if officials did not keep proper documentation or if children are too young to identify their parents by name.

Reports since then have indicated that families may still be being separated at the border.

An official with ICE said that they do not have a comment regarding the Williamson County commissioners’ decision to end their agreement with CoreCivic.

Another official said that the letter seen by The Independent might have been written in the detention facility but appears to refer to Border Patrol, and not ICE, agents. Border Patrol has not responded to a request for comment.

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