T. Don Hutto Residential Center, Taylor, Texas
February 24, 2020
Approximately 80 female detainees at the T. Don Hutto Residential Center in Taylor, Texas engaged in a sit-down strike in protest of indefinite detention, inadequate medical care and other issues.
In retaliation, approximately 47 participants were transferred to the Laredo Detention Center in Laredo, Texas more than 200 miles away. A week later, Grassroots Leadership, a migrant advocacy group based in Austin, Texas, reported that 150 additional detainees had been transferred.
The T. Don Hutto facility is operated by the private prison contractor CoreCivic under contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
According to the Texas Observer, an ICE Spokesperson reported, “The detainees told facility staff they would continue their protest until they were released from custody; however, those actions compromised security protocols at the facility and blocked access to services including visitation, court, and the dining area.”
Grassroots Leadership published a letter they received from a refugee from Cameroon detained at the T. Don Hutto facility in which they described their conditions of confinement. The letter is dated February 23, 2020, the day before the protest. The letter is reproduced here in full:
A Cry for Help
It is with great honor and also heavy hearts that Cameroon women in TDHRC write to you. We are refugees from Cameroon seeking refuge and protection in the United States because there is war in our country and we are not safe there. Some of us have been kept here in detention for 3-7 months and have not yet been judged.
When we got here, we were told we won’t be released on parole because of the July 16th law, so we have to remain in detention and follow our cases. Some of our sisters have gone through the court proceedings to the last and have been failed despite all what is happening in our country. Some of us, even after appealing are being forced to sign deportation and parole denial letters against our will.
The population of African women in this facility is about 300 and more than 200 of that population are Cameroonians and the population keeps increasing on a daily basis.
Some of our sisters are sick and not being well treated. Others are running mad due to trauma and stress. One person is on a wheelchair who needs surgery and many others with serious health conditions who also need surgery but are be neglected. The medical department is very rude to us, they tell us we’re pretending to be sick even when someone is in serious pain, they laugh and mock at your medical condition, they give wrong medication to patients and they don’t attend to you when you really need medical attention.
Being in detention for more than 6 months as refugees we’ve never seen any Human Rights Official or Organizations for Refugees or even posts on notice boards. When we asked the ICE Supervisor, Mr. Nicholas Fawler, he told us he doesn’t have any connection with the Human Rights Committee or any UN Organization.
We are being treated unfairly and there is a lot of discrimination between the African women and the whites. Almost all the white women we came in with and even others who came after us have been released on parole and bond but we’ve been denied both parole and bond.
There is also continuous increase in commissary prices and we are being told the profits are used to provide recreational activities and maintenance in the facility. The little money we have in our accounts are being drained by the outrageous commissary prices.
We will really be happy and grateful if you intervene and help us get out of here.
Southern Cameroon Refugees
Grassroots Leadership estimates that at the time of the protest there were approximately 300 female asylum seekers from Cameroon at the facility. The group stated,
For roughly the past six months, ICE has denied granting parole or bond to any of the women detained. This leaves women who present themselves at the port of entry—what the US government says they should do—languishing in detention for the duration of their asylum case without any way to appeal for their release. Right now, many of these women who crossed the bridge are from Cameroon, where the English speaking population is fleeing persecution from the French majority.
In November, a group of activists and former detainees at the facility held a demonstration in front of the detention center in protest of the proposal to establish a long-term contract between the facility and ICE.
“Following a Protest, ICE Transfers Dozens of Asylum Seekers to an Isolated Laredo Facility“, Texas Observer, March 2, 2020.
“A cry for help: a letter from Cameroonian women detained at T. Don Hutto“, Grassroots Leadership, March 6, 2020.
“Activists Rally for the Closure of Hutto Detention Center as Private Contract Rumors Swirl“, Texas Observer, November 18, 2019.
Article published: 3/8/2020
Header photo source: Texas Observer