More than a week after being released from a detention center where she said she was sexually assaulted by a guard, a Salvadoran woman seeking asylum called on officials not to turn a blind eye to the abuse she says immigrant women face at the center.
“I know that at this time, the women in the detention center are looking at me,” Laura Monterrosa said Monday in Spanish at a news conference, surrounded by local organizers who have been campaigning for her release since last year. “Don’t let anyone violate your human rights. … It doesn’t matter if you are not of this country or if you are an immigrant, your rights will always be your rights, and they must be respected.”
In November, Monterrosa reported to the Williamson County sheriff’s office that she had been assaulted by a guard at the T. Don Hutto Center in Taylor. Community advocates, along with local and state representatives, demanded that immigration officials release Monterrosa and have asked that the center be investigated for its handling of sexual assault cases.
Monterrosa said the first thing she did after being released March 16 was “eat well and sleep well.” It was something she hadn’t been able to do since her detainment, she added.
She said that when she was told she would be released, she wanted to “scream out loud and run everywhere.”
Although she did not provide details about the abuse she said she went through for four to five months because the case is ongoing, Monterrosa said she would continue to advocate for the release of the women still at the center, where she had been detained since June.
She said there are “more than 500 women suffering” who are still detained at T. Don Hutto and who lack adequate nutrition or medical care.
“They are forced to take 15 to 25 pills a day without caring about side-effects. If they don’t do that, they are forced to be in an isolation cell or they are forced to be transferred to another detention center,” she said.
When asked to be more specific, she refused to give details. She also would not provide details about her legal case or explain her reasons for leaving El Salvador.
Claudia Muñoz, the immigration programs director for Grassroots Leadership, which has been supporting Monterrosa, said she hopes other immigrants can look up to her as an example that they, too, can come forward with their own stories of abuse.
“We are hoping that they see Laura’s leadership and her courage and how brave she is, and they know that it is possible to speak out about your own case and be able to get your freedom,” Muñoz said.
After Monterrosa came out publicly with her case, several representatives have spoken out in support of her.
In February, officials told Austin City Council Member Greg Casar that he could not visit with Monterrosa at the detention facility. Casar said that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials told him it was because he was an elected official.
That same month, U.S. Reps. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, and Joaquín Castro, D-San Antonio, called for an “expedited audit” of the sexual assault cases in the Hutto Center and an “investigation of ICE’s handling of sexual assault cases in Texas immigration detention facilities.”