Immigrant woman attempts suicide after reporting allegations of sexual abuse at Texas detention centre

Laura Monterrosa survived the attempt but says she is not receiving adequate medical care

Emily Shugerman
New York
Saturday 20 January 2018 00:25 GMT
An immigration detainee stands near an US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) grievance box at an unrelated facility
An immigration detainee stands near an US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) grievance box at an unrelated facility (ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)

An immigrant woman in a Texas detention centre has attempted to kill herself after allegedly being forced to eat in the same cafeteria as the guard she says sexually abused her.

Laura Monterrosa is an immigrant from El Salvador currently seeking asylum in the United States. In November, she reported being repeatedly sexually abused by a female guard at the T Don Hutto detention centre, where she has been held since May.

Last week, according to civil rights organisation Grassroots Leadership, she attempted to take her own life.

“I feel very desperate because I tried to report the abuse from ICE and facility officials, but they continue to psychologically abuse me through intimidation,” Ms Monterrosa said in a statement after being released from medical care.

She added: “I do not feel safe or secure. I am not receiving the medical treatment or help I need.”

Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) said in a statement that it "remains committed to ensuring its facilities adhere to ICE’s detention standards which provide several levels of oversight in order to ensure that residents in ICE custody reside in safe, secure and humane environments".

Grassroots Leadership said Ms Monterrosa took more than 50 pain pills after guards threatened to punish her if she did not eat in the same cafeteria where her alleged abuser worked.

Sofia Casini, the immigration programmes coordinator at Grassroots Leadership, told The Independent that guards were called into Ms Monterrosa’s cell shortly after she took the pills, but did not assist her. Instead, Ms Monterrosa took herself to the medical centre hours later, after talking on the phone with Grassroots staff.

“This case is heart-wrenching,” Claudia Muñoz, immigration programmes director at Grassroots Leadership, said in a statement. “...It’s just inhumane to force this victim of sexual abuse to have to relive that abuse everyday by being forced to confront her abuser over and over again.”

An ICE spokesperson said Ms Monterrosa was evaluated by detention centre medical staff after a "after a self-reported medical situation," and immediately referred to the Baylor Scott and White Medical Centre Hospital. She was discharged from the hospital and returned to ICE custody after a hospital physician determined her to be stable. Medical staff at the detention centre were keeping her under observation.

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Ms Monterrosa reported the alleged sexual abuse to the Williamson County sheriff’s office in November, according to the Austin Statesman. The Sheriff’s Office told The Independent they had received a complaint, but that the matter had been handed over to the FBI.

The FBI said they had opened a civil rights investigation into the alleged assault. They declined to comment further, saying the investigation was ongoing.

Two more detainees at T Don Hutto came forward with allegations of sexual abuse after Ms Monterrosa filed her complaint, according to the Austin Chronicle. At least five detainees at the same detention centre filed similar complaints between 2007 and 2011, according to documents obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union.

Nearly 200 allegations of sexual abuse were made by detainees across the country in the same time period.

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