According to Grassroots Leadership, an Austin-based group that advocates for the end of for-profit prisons, at least 27 women at the T. Don Hutto Residential Center in Taylor, Texas, are currently on an indefinite hunger strike. The women, who have been dubbed #Hutto27 on social media, have just one demand: immediate release from immigration detention. Grassroots reports that the strike began on Wednesday evening at dinnertime.
According to a petition of support on Grassroots’ website, the women are immigrants from Brazil, El Salvador, Europe, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico and Nicaragua. They are being held in the 512-bed facility at the behest of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which is run by private prison operator Corrections Corporation of America.
Grassroots’ site is hosting scans of handwritten letters from 18 of the women that detail the conditions inside the center, why they came to the United States and why they want to stay here. They describe stays of more than one year, denied opportunities to post bond, inordinately high commissary prices, poor medical treatment and overall neglect.
In a letter translated from Spanish by Colorlines, a Salvadoran detainee named Ana [PDF] writes:
For four months I’ve been presenting proof via photographs and letters, testifying to my terrible fear because I was a victim of domestic violence. I was a victim of mental and physical traumas. In many occasions he caused blows that could have been fatal.
In another translated letter, a detainee whose name has been redacted writes that she risks domestic violence if she returns to Mexico [PDF]:
I would suffer physical and mental torture if I returned to Mexico. I’ve lived in constant fear for the last 4 years, with telephonic threats. […]
The food [at Hutto] is the worst, if they give us oranges, it seems as if the fruit was taken out of the trash. They treat us as if we have leprosy, they humiliate us in numerous ways. We don’t have any rights. These people are free to torture us and mock us. Here a lot of things happen to us. […]
We are women who have suffered, and keep suffering with nobody listening to us. Please help us. Please listen to my plea.”
On Thursday afternoon protestors gathered outside the facility in a show of support and vigilance.
ICE public affairs officer Adelina Pruneda provided the following statement Thursday:
ICE takes the health, safety, and welfare of those in our care very seriously and we continue to monitor the situation. Currently, no one at the T. Don Hutto Detention Center was identified as being on a hunger strike or refusing to eat.
The ICE representative also explained how its detention centers handle hunger strikes:
After 72 hours, detainees are referred to the medical department for “evaluation and possible treatment.” They are also “isolated for close supervision, observation, and monitoring” and encouraged to end the strike or accept treatment.
Read all 18 letters in Spanish here.