Texans United for Families, or TUFF, came together during the fight to end family detention at the T. Don Hutto Detention Center, just north of Austin. TUFF is a grassroots, all-volunteer-driven project of Grassroots Leadership. We support and coordinate TUFF members in their mission to fight back against immigrant detention and deportation close to home. In response to the influx of Central American families and children seeking refuge at the border, the Obama Administration announced the return of family detention in 2014. TUFF is fighting back to end this inhumane practice. Find out more about the consequences of family detention.
Texans United for Families
It’s not easy to find out what happens inside the walls of ICE’s numerous detention centers. Critics complain of a persistent culture of secrecy within the agency, and details about the circumstances of hunger strikes can be sparse even on the occasion that ICE will acknowledge one. Rarely will the agency grant more than a yes or no confirmation.
But through a FOIA request to ICE, ThinkProgress obtained a document that provides some clarity: CCA’s emergency food strike plan. The disciplinary nature of the company’s policy (embedded below) stood out to Carl Takei, a staff attorney at the ACLU’s National Prison Project who specializes in immigration detention.
“The thrust of the policy is to squelch the protest rather to address any medical or health concerns,” Takei told ThinkProgress after reviewing its content. “It’s very different from ICE’s hunger strike policy, because ICE’s hunger strike policy is primarily about medical procedures and medical concerns. This policy is about security and control.“
The policy also carved out punishments for food strikers, noting that participants would have their all of their commissary purchasing privileges suspended, and could have radio, visitation, and phone privileges removed if the center’s commander chose.
“I think it’s telling that it describes a food strike as a passive-aggressive form of protest,” Takei said. “I haven’t seen a detailed policy like this that lays out both the punitive attitude and the punitive procedures. Usually this is something that is done much more informally.”
But punishment for the October incident allegedly went beyond what was written into CCA’s policy. Grassroots Leadership claims ICE and/or CCA retaliated against strikers by placing them in solitary confinement and then sending them to other detention centers. In response to a FOIA request, ICE told ThinkProgress that Hutto does not use solitary confinement.
But Zelaya claims she was placed in isolation at the detention center and sent to a frigid room by herself. “When I participated in the hunger strike for my life and health I did it because I didn’t feel that they took good care of me… and for participating they punished me,” she said in a statement provided to ThinkProgress. “I was put in a room alone with so much cold, cold. I cried because my bones hurt from so much cold.”
Days later, she was transferred to a different facility, in Laredo, Texas. Read more about A Shocking Glimpse Inside America’s Privatized Detention Facilities For Immigrants
On Friday, fourteen people arrived to fill the small courtroom at the San Antonio immigration court and surprised staff with matching t-shirts to support Maribel Zelaya at the bond hearing she had finally been granted after more than a year in detention. Read more about #Hutto27 update: Maribel is free from immigrant detention, but the fight isn't over
As we finish up 2015, we thought we’d reflect on the year at Grassroots Leadership. We’ve had a terrific year of work and it couldn’t have been possible without the hard work and support of our staff, board, volunteers, allies, and donors. Please consider making a donation to help our work continue in 2016. Thank you, we couldn’t do it without you! Read more about The year in review: 15 highlights of 2015 at Grassroots Leadership!
A detainee participating in the weeks-long hunger strike at the T. Don Hutto Residential Center in Taylor, Texas, confirmed women are being transferred to other detention centers as punishment for participating in the strike, according to audio released Wednesday by Grassroots Leadership, an organization that forms part of a larger umbrella group known as Texans United for Families (TUFF).
The woman in the audio clip said detainees are being told the transfers are happening because new women are arriving and the beds are needed, “but it has to be because of the hunger strike … because there are women who’ve been here over a year.”
“ICE can deny the hunger strike is happening and that these transfers are coincidental, but what that guard said is acknowledgement that this is punishment and retaliation for participating in the hunger strike,” Parker said. “In the face of all of this, the women want to continue resisting.” Read more about At Hutto Detention Center, the Women on Strike ‘Want to Continue Resisting’
Last week, 27 immigrant women detained at the for-profit T. Don Hutto facility in Austin began refusing meals, demanding an end to mistreatment and their immediate release. Most are asylum seekers from Central America, which has seen a surge in migrants fleeing violence and abuse. The detainees said they’ve faced threats and unjustified surveillance as they languish in custody without hope of freedom. Immigration officials have denied the hunger strike is even taking place. While exact figures are unknown, advocates say the hunger strike grew this week substantially, possibly into the hundreds. Hutto is run by the country’s largest private prison firm, Corrections Corporation of America. The hunger strike is the latest by immigrant detainees around the country, following three others in the past month. "Women are fleeing Central America and Mexico because they are in danger," says Cristina Parker, immigration projects coordinator for Grassroots Leadership. "We respond by putting them in a prison for profit that cuts corners, that serves bad food, that neglects people’s medical care and needs. This is the system that these women are exposing, and they’re doing so, so bravely." Read more about Locked Up & Neglected After Fleeing Danger, Immigrant Women Detainees Launch Hunger Strike in Texas
One striker's daughter says staff retaliated against her mom by transferring her to solitary confinement in an all-male facility.
She had had enough.
Two weeks ago, nearly seven months into her stay at the T. Don Hutto Residential Center in Taylor, northeast of Austin, Francisca Morales Macias went on a hunger strike. Morales Macias, fleeing an abusive partner in Mexico, was detained at the all-female immigration detention center in April and decided to protest after she was repeatedly served rotten milk and undercooked, and even uncooked, food.
Monica Morales, her 27-year-old daughter, told the Observer that her mother was also experiencing mistreatment by guards inside the center.
“All she did was try to save her life and try to come back to her family” in Texas, said Morales, who lives in Amarillo. Women detained at Hutto, she said, “aren’t animals, they’re human beings.”
By last Wednesday — nine days ago — 26 more women had reportedly joined Morales Macias, refusing dinner and vowing indefinitely not to eat until they are released from the detention facility. Many women, including Morales Macias, have fled violence and persecution in their home countries, including Mexico, Honduras and Guatemala, and are seeking asylum in the United States. Read more about Hutto Hunger Strike Reportedly Growing Despite ICE Denials
Ten days after news broke of a hunger strike at the T. Don Hutto Residential Center in Taylor, Texas, reports are emerging from inside Hutto that six women are being rounded up for transfer by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) as retaliation for participating in the hunger strike.
Grassroots Leadership, an organization that forms part of a larger umbrella group known as Texans United for Families (TUFF), confirms two of the initial hunger strikers, Francisca and Amalia, have been moved to a remote majority men’s detention center in Pearsall, Texas. The organization also reports that Francisca’s family has verified that she has been placed in solitary confinement there.
Last weekend, Insis, a Garífuna woman from Honduras participating in the hunger strike, was placed in “medical solitary confinement” for two days. Read more about Women Face Retaliation at Texas Detention Center Following Hunger Strike
On October 28, 27 women being held at the T. Don Hutto Residential Center began a hunger strike with a single demand: immediate release from an immigration detention center that they say neglects them and their rights. Fourteen days later, local advocacy group Grassroots Leadership reports that the growing group of women is still refusing to eat and is now facing retaliatory measures.
We spoke to Christina Parker, Grassroots Leadership’s immigration program director, for an update:
How many women do you estimate are currently on hunger strike at Hutto?
Parker: The hunger strike has moved into a new phase of rolling strikes. The original strike started almost two weeks ago and women have a biological need to begin eating again. So now, women will fast one section (each section is about 40 to 50 women) for a few days, and then stop and another section will begin. Twenty-seven women started the strike, and over the course of the last week, we confirmed that three sections were on strike at the height of the protest. So that’s at least 125 women, with 40 to 50 striking at any given time.
How are they sustaining themselves?
During the initial strike, women only took in water or sugar water. During the rolling strikes, they'll use time to rest while another section strikes to sustain themselves. In addition being a way to sustain themselves, they told us they are employing this system this to try to hide from ICE who is and isn’t eating. ICE has been taking inventory of who is eating and who isn’t and intimidating women they believe are not eating. The rolling hunger strike is a way for them to continue to resist, but be less easy to target for retaliation, which is brilliant and shows how committed they are.
How many of the striking women have reportedly been moved to other facilities?
We know of two women [Francisca Morales Macias and Amalia Arteaga Leal] who have been moved to the detention center in Pearsall, a historically all-men’s facility that is notorious for its conditions. Apparently, there is a small women’s wing. We know of at least four others moved to the Laredo detention center on the border, which is also known for bad conditions. According to a rushed phone call from inside the night they were moved (late Thursday, early Friday), as many as 12 may have been taken to Laredo and perhaps half of them had been participating in the strike.
How many have been moved into solitary confinement?
Two women have faced solitary confinement that we know of. Insis [Maribel Zelaya Bernardez] was placed in solitary at Hutto the first weekend of the hunger strike. This was confirmed by her attorney and friend who went and demanded to see her and a letter she wrote about the experience. Francisca, who was moved to Pearsall, has been in solitary since she arrived. We and her family are extremely concerned about her well-being and want her released to pursue to case outside of detention as soon as possible. It is worth explaining here that ICE will say they do not have any solitary confinement cells in immigrant detention. But what they leave out is that they do have single cells in the medical units and this is where they will lock women up, under the pretext of medical care. But it is obvious to the women that it is a punishment, especially since they have reported that don’t see anyone while they’re in there, including any doctors or nurses. This was what we saw in the reports of solitary used against mothers and children during the Karnes hunger strikes. Read more about UPDATE: 100+ Women Now Refusing to Eat in Texas Immigration Detention Center
Close to 100 women being held in a detention center for immigrants in Hutto, Texas, have joined a hunger strike asking for their release and better living conditions, especially in regard to medical attention.
Twenty-seven women had started the strike on Oct. 28.
Cristina Parker of Grassroots Leadership, an organization that advocates for the release of detained immigrants, told EFE that the women – mostly from Mexico and Central America – are being held in detention centers while their asylum claims are being looked at. They could be deported if their cases are rejected. Read more about Nearly 100 women held in Texas immigration detention center on hunger strike