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.
Cristina Parker, the immigration programs director for Grassroots Leadership, told Rewire that this type of solitary confinement is a common tactic used by ICE. Hutto doesn’t have what might be considered a traditional solitary confinement area, so women are placed in the medical section alone under the guise of needing medical attention.
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A statement from ICE earlier this week said, “no one at the T. Don Hutto Detention Center was identified as being on a hunger strike or refusing to eat.” According to Grassroots Leadership, ICE “continues to deny” a hunger strike is taking place.
The exact number of detainees participating in the Hutto hunger strike is still unknown. Numbers have varied from 27 to 500. When a striker used the phrase “casi todo” to describe how many people were participating in the strike, it suggested to advocates that all of the women in Hutto’s 500-bed facility were striking. Parker told Rewire in a follow-up interview that Hutto is divided into sections, making it difficult for detainees to communicate with women in other sections of the detention center, and that it is more likely the detainee was reporting that everyone in her section at Hutto was participating in the hunger strike.
Most of the women in Hutto are Central American asylum seekers fleeing violence in their countries of origin. They are striking to protest the detention center system. In a statement released Thursday evening, TUFF’s Rocio Villalobos said that asylum seekers who have been held for more than six months should be granted prosecutorial discretion by ICE and should be immediately released, allowing the women to fight their asylum cases while living with with their families.