As the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) investigates its use of private prisons, women currently and formerly detained in two CCA-operated immigrant detention centers in Texas are speaking out against abuses in the facilities. Grassroots Leadership received letters (read redacted versions below) in mid-September from women denouncing abusive conditions at the Laredo Processing Center. The conditions they describe mirror those in federal private prisons that led the Department of Justice (DOJ) to announce that they would phase out the use of these prisons in the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) over the next five years.
We first received word that the women wanted to speak publicly when eleven women signed an August 9th letter to Grassroots Leadership reporting an inability to access their legal documents and communicate with attorneys, as well as many of the same conditions named in the recent letters. Here is an excerpt from that letter:
The women speaking out had been suddenly transferred from the T. Don Hutto Residential Center in Taylor, Texas to the Laredo Processing Center at the end of June, away from their legal counsel and community support.
One woman, Elena*, described the sudden transfer.
“When they notified us that they were going to transfer us to another detention center it was a Friday at 11pm,” she said. “They woke us up at that time so that we could sign [paperwork].”
More abuses followed this sudden transfer, and continue to take place. Women detained inside the detention center, communicating by letter and through their attorneys, report damaged and unsanitary facilities, aggressive guards and medical staff, grossly inadequate medical care including the complete lack of a doctor on staff, interference with phone conversations including communication with attorneys, inedible food, and even guards carrying firearms.
Read the full redacted letters here:
The following are some of the main types of abuses that the women are experiencing inside the Laredo Processing Center, with quotes from the letters we received.
1. Grossly inadequate medical care and health conditions:
“The first night that we arrived [at Laredo], they put us in a very cold room all night without anything to cover us. That same week we got sick with colds in our throat and chest. That same week I started to feel a lot of headaches, and I started to bleed from my nose. Up until today I am very worried, for 11 times [that I’ve had nosebleeds] they have only attended to three times...The three times they have attended to me they give me some aspirin and ibuprofen.” - Ramira*
Because of my sickness of chronic diabetes that I have, I have to drink a lot of water. I keep my bottles of water close to my bed. Now I don’t do that because the Official [name redacted to protect against reprisal] demands that I dump them out with terrible shouts. Sometimes I might save some bread that they give at meals because for my diabetes I have to be eating something so that my sugar stays stable. She [the official] checks and throws it in the trash. This is affecting my health more, as much physically as psychologically.” - Rebekah*
“I have a cyst and I need my problem looked at by a gynecologist. I had to notify ICE so that I would be seen by a doctor. Said doctor only told me that he was going to transfer me to a surgeon and nothing more has happened, it was only that. I fear that my problem will turn into cancer because of being deprived of my liberty without committing any crime, and not seeking medical attention in time because I am locked up.” - Elena*
“Here they do not provide adequate medical care. Because when I went to a check-up for my bronquitis, the nurse on duty at the time took my temperature and when she put the thermometer violently in my ear, it hurt me and I told her that it had hurt and she took it out, later she put it in again. She was super angry, I arrived to my dormitory crying and I told my companions what had happened to me. I beg you please to pay attention.” - Nora*
“They keep me laying down and my right leg feels asleep, since I have a damaged Sciatic nerve caused by the impacts of the bullets I received. I need therapy or simply mobility. In this place you barely leave the bed and they shout at you “to your bed, count” -Doralia*
“Because of the frequent infections that I have had, I have asked for an appointment with a gynecologist but they tell me that they don’t have that service...I have also asked to see the gynecologist because in Honduras I was sexually abused.” - Doralia*
2. Unsanitary facilities:
“On frequent occasions our section floods with dirty drainage water and we have to take our food that way with a frightening odor. My companions and I cleaned and they didn’t give us gloves or face masks. We got our shoes wet and asked that they please change them for us but they didn’t do it until they dried out. Because of this we got a fungus in our feet.” - Nora*
“Two times black water has overflowed and we had to eat like that, terribly, with the bad smell. We got sick to our stomachs and when they fixed the piping we had to clean. My feet got wet with water with poop and became filled with a lot of fungus. Up until today, they still have not gotten better because the skin has fallen off of my toes.” - Ramira*
“They force us to put on used underclothes. This underclothes is used by all of the people detained who pass through this center. Our health doesn’t matter to them, based on using these clothes….Psychologically I don’t feel well because the officials yell at us and humiliate us a lot. -Rebekah*
3. Sickening food:
“This affects one psychologically to put up with shouts, humiliations, to go hungry. Because the food they give is horrible, only potatoes, ham and bread. This is the menu.” - Elena*
“The food that they give us causes us stomach aches, diarrhea, and vomiting and this is because the give us ham that smells bad and has purple lines, this makes us sick. They also give us a tough meet with very sweet, soupy bread.” - Nora*
4. Verbal abuse & harsh, punitive treatment:
“There were two days that they didn’t let us go to the bathroom. My companions and I complained and asked if we could please use the bathroom because we couldn’t stand the urge to go to the bathroom anymore, so much that there were some of us that got sick from holding the urge to go to the bathroom for so long, that they even got infections, and they didn’t pay any attention to us. What they did was shout at us a lot as if we were causing some harm by telling them what was happening. I think it’s unjust and it’s not right that they treat us like this.” - Camila*
“We suffer humiliations from Official [name redacted to protect against reprisal]. She enters our section saying that we are in a 5 star hotel with a taunting smile. She comes and observes our food, which is beans, ham, and two pieces of bread and says today you got a banquet and she laughs. She always comes in with her sarcastic comments.” - Nora*
“In Laredo the Official [name redacted to protect against reprisal] comes in the dormitory and laughs saying that we are in a five star hotel and that the food is a delicious banquet. The food is always frozen ham or something that I think that not even animals would eat. There are always shouts, two days with very loud alarms in the dormitory that hurt our ears. When we ask why they treat us this way, they say that they are following orders from the officials that sent us from Taylor, [name redacted to protect against reprisal]. They also said that they sent us as punishment for behaving badly, and that’s why we’re in Laredo.” - Ramira*
5. Re-traumatization of survivors of violence:
“When we go out for recreation they watch over us with shotguns in their hands as if we were criminals, something else that I don’t see as necessary, since because of the physical damages that I already have in my body from firearms and the psychological impact of that, they make me feel afraid. Many times I prefer not to go outside because this traumatizes me more. I beg you that you help me please, it’s been 6 months that I’ve been in my process [of my asylum case] and I ask that you check on the conditions that Laredo Processing Center has us in, as they’re not appropriate for people like me who fled from violence, mistreatment.” - Doralia*
“They [the guards] shout at us so loudly that sometimes I feel like I’m going to faint because I feel my body go very weak. It would seem as if we had done them some kind of harm and because of that they behave in such an ugly way with us. It’s not fair because we are not criminals and we are only looking for refuge. And it is so painful for me because I come from domestic violence and I have endured blows and shouts from my ex-partner and because of this they make me remember and I feel like I am in those past moments. It brings me so much sadness that I came here to remember.” - Nora*
“Here in this detention center where we are, Laredo Processing Center, every day is bad, they never offer you a greeting, a smile, something that is so essential for your day to start off well. They offer everything grudgingly, a lot of the time the food makes you sick because it is not well cooked or it’s raw. You feel afraid to get sick, knowing that there is no guarantee that you will get better. Health is so important, and here it’s not important to them, such that many times you feel that you really aren’t worth anything, even more for a woman like me who has been raped, tortured, humiliated.” - Mabel*
6. Interference with phone conversations:
“Because communication here is so difficult to make calls, I haven’t been able to communicate with my children for 5 months and they don’t connect calls to my attorney either. I don’t sleep from the worry of not knowing if my children are okay.” - Doralia*
“They don’t let us talk on the phone without interference. When they hear that someone is going to start complaining they cut the call or all the telephones for long periods of time.” - Doralia*
One woman summed up the experience of being detained in Laredo like this:
“Since the transfer from Hutto we have been in a constant state of stress that appears to never end. We have learned not to sleep, because the constant counts don’t allow it, the dormitory floods with drainage water at any moment. I have observed how this wears down my companions physically and emotionally. They’ve tried to give a hemorrhage to one african woman, another with problems of nasal hemorrhaging, and many others with acts of racism and cruelty.” - Mabel*
The women are demanding that their rights be respected, these abuses be investigated, and that they be released from their lengthy detention.
"I ask you to please examine the operation of these detention centers because I have not been the only woman [who this has happened to]. These abuses are with all the women that were transferred from Hutto. There are around 24 of us because some were already deported and others have gone free but the conditions in which we are waiting to finish our cases are not good. My companions are also humiliated and suffer illnesses that they have developed here” - Doralia*
"We demand an explanation. They are punishing us for something that we have not done. I never behaved badly in Taylor. I come looking for help from my country, fleeing from people who are criminals that did me a lot of harm, and to finish it off here I am mistreated by personnel and migration officials.” - Ramira*
“We demand that they value our rights...we can’t take it anymore. - Mabel*
“I ask that they give me the opportunity to be part of a community with my daughters. They deserve, the same as all people, to live free from fear, from insecurity.” - Mabel*
*Names of detained women changed to protect identity