An advocacy group that helped an asylum seeker gain her release from an immigrant detention center in Taylor plans to put officials “on trial” Saturday, when alleged abuses at the facility will be aired during an unofficial hearing outside the center.
Williamson County Sheriff Robert Chody and the Williamson County Commissioners were invited to the hearing “for their role in the abuse through maintenance of the T. Don Hutto contract and oversight for the facility and crimes committed by CoreCivic employees and ICE officials,” according to a news release from Grassroots Leadership, a local advocacy group.
None of the Williamson County officials who received a “people’s subpoena” to the event at the T. Don Hutto Residential Center plans to attend.
“I have no intention of going,” said Chody. “I believe it’s an opportunity for them to try to publicly shame me for something I don’t have a lot of control over. I am willing to meet with them privately.”
The event from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturday, called a “people’s tribunal,” will involve people released from immigrant detention centers acting as “judges” and women formerly detained at the detention center delivering a verdict. It is part of a series of tribunals the Detention Watch Network has been holding nationwide about alleged abuses at detention centers.
“If they want change, they have to go after federal policy,” said Williamson County Commissioner Terry Cook.
Other county commissioners had no comment about the unofficial hearing or said they couldn’t attend because of other commitments. Officials from Immigration and Customs Enforcement will not be on hand either, said Adelina Pruneda, an ICE spokeswoman.
If no local officials attend the tribunal Saturday, someone will stand in to represent them, said Bethany Carson, a researcher for Grassroots Leadership.
The two-hour event comes after representatives from GrassRoots Leadership and other community members asked Williamson County Commissioners at meetings this spring to address issues at the detention center. The county commissioners never put the item on their agenda, the Grassroots Leadership news release said.
The group has previously asked Chody to investigate sexual assault allegations at the facility, which houses female asylum seekers. Chody has said he referred the issue to the FBI.
In March, GrassRoots Leadership helped Laura Monterrosa — an asylum seeker from El Salvador who has alleged a female guard at the facility sexually assaulted her — gain her release from the center.
Monterrosa’s release came after U.S. Reps. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, and Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, wrote to ICE officials in February, asking them to “direct an investigation of ICE’s handling of sexual assault cases in Texas immigration detention facilities.”
Forty-four other members of Congress co-signed the letter, which said five detainees reported being sexually assaulted at the T. Don Hutto center between 2007 to 2011, according to Doggett’s office.
CoreCivic, which owns and operates the facility, pays the county approximately $8,000 per month for the costs and expenses associated with employing a county representative to serve as a liaison between Williamson County, ICE and CoreCivic.
The county can’t close the independently owned facility, but it can cancel the contract with CoreCivic and ICE, Williamson County spokeswoman Connie Odom has said.