Release the #Hutto 27 Now!
Immigrant Women Asylum-Seekers Face Retaliation for Hunger Strike

November 9, 2015 | Revolution Newspaper |


5 Stops

On October 28, 27 immigrant women asylum-seekers began a hunger strike to protest terrible conditions, abusive treatment, and poor medical care at the T. Don Hutto Residential Center in Taylor, Texas, near Austin. The hunger strike is reported to be growing and spreading through the 500-bed facility.

One of the women said she decided to protest after repeatedly being served rotten milk and undercooked, and even uncooked, food. Others have described hostile and belittling treatment by the staff and little or no medical and mental health care. The women have vowed to not eat until they are released from the detention center. Hutto is the only women-only immigrant detention facility in the U.S. It is one of more than 22 for-profit detention centers in Texas alone run by Corrections Corporation of America, which operates others around the country.

There are reports of retaliation against the protesters by prison authorities, even as they are denying that a hunger strike is taking place. The daughter of one striker said the staff retaliated against her mom by transferring her to solitary confinement in an all-male facility. “All she did was try to save her life and try to come back to her family” in Texas. The women being held in Hutto “aren’t animals, they’re human beings.”

At least two of the initial strikers have been transferred to a remote detention center in Pearsall, Texas, where the majority of detainees are men; and one of them has been placed in solitary confinement there. Six others are in the process of being transferred.

Rights groups are calling for the retaliation to stop and for the women in detention to be immediately released. “They came to our country for protection, but we have put them in this prison,” said Cristina Parker, a director at Grassroots Leadership, an Austin group.

This follows a hunger strike by immigrant women with children in Karnes City, Texas, earlier this year. (See “80 Women at Texas Immigration Center Start Hunger Strike”) In addition, at least 54 detained South Asians from Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, held in the El Paso, Texas,  detention center, carried out a week-long hunger strike in mid-October. And since October 30, over 300 immigrant men are believed to have started a hunger strike in another for-profit detention center in Adelanto, California.

Bob Avakian, "Why do people come here from all over the world?"

Along with the strike, 17 letters from women being held at Hutto were published. One woman wrote: “We decided to do this fast because we are women of second entry; women who have entered the United States for a second time. And they are not giving us the opportunity to stay to fight our case here in order to be able to stay here in the United States. This is the reason.”

Hutto and other formerly “family” detention centers were transformed after a federal court in Los Angeles earlier this year condemned the treatment of children in these facilities and ordered it to end by late October. Jeh Johnson, Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, described what they are doing to the women being held and then deported as “transitioning these detention centers into processing centers where individuals can be processed and screened rather than detained for a prolonged period of time.”

This is total bullshit. Asylum-seekers should not be detained but released, given caring treatment and housing, and reunited with their families in this country wherever possible. Instead, many are being held for months, and in some cases over a year—and then deported back to the hell they fled. The detention of these womenwho have suffered violence, terror, and horrific abuse under the U.S.-backed regimes of Central America’s Northern Triangle (Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador) and in southern Mexico, and in their desperate journey in search of asylumis itself a crime.

Someone from the community who has been visiting the women for the past two years was quoted by Al Jazeera: “The women are scared and they see others being sent back to certain death.” Another woman engaged in the strike wrote: “I’m dying of desperation from this injustice, from this cruelty.” A Guatemalan woman who has been detained since last December is scheduled to be deported even though this is taking a heavy toll on her two daughters, who were both born in the U.S.

Horror of Refugee Crisis in Central America

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) released a report in October that said: “The dramatic refugee crises we are witnessing in the world today are not confined to the Middle East or Africa. We are seeing another refugee situation unfolding in the Americas.” The UNHCR report, “Women on the Run,” found that over 66,000 children traveled with their families or alone from the Northern Triangle countries of Central America to the U.S. in 2014. And since 2008 there has been a nearly fivefold increase in asylum-seekers to the U.S.

The report describes the horror confronting women asylum-seekers from those countries. El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras rank first, second, and seventh in the world, respectively, in female homicide rates, according to the report. The interviews the UNHCR conducted with 160 women recently forced to flee these countries describe harrowing experiences of rape, assault, extortion, and threats.

In the forward to its report, the UNHCR writes: “Women in particular are targeted by specific and extreme forms of gender-based violence.” One of the women interviewed said: “Everything affects you because there a woman is worthless. It is as though your life is not worth anything. They rape. There is no limit. There is no authority. There is no one to stop them.”

All of this is the result of decades of U.S. imperialist domination in the region. In the 1980s, the U.S. supported and guided murderous pro-U.S. regimes in the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of peasants to suppress liberation struggles supported by the Soviet Union, the main imperialist rival of the U.S. at that time. This was followed by a U.S.-imposed economic trade agreement—CAFTA—that opened the economies up to deeper imperialist penetration. This created sectors in the economies that were highly profitable to international capital, while leaving huge numbers of peasants with no way to make a living. Gangs and gang violence have filled the gap—fueled by the U.S. deportation of Central American gang members back to these countries.

And now, a key part of U.S. strategy is to give Mexico more than $80 million to launch what is called the Southern Border Plan (Plan Frontera Sur), which has unleashed a ferocious crackdown against Central American immigrants coming into Mexico. (For more on this, see “‘Outsourcing’ Deportation Back to Hell.”) Meanwhile, those who make it to the U.S. are treated as criminals and held in detention, facing the terror of being forced to return to the hell they have so courageously fled, and often to their death.

Everyone needs to stand with and support these women who are risking their health and their lives in this brave hunger strike. Their just demands must be met, and they must all be released immediately. And we have to fight for the release of all of the undocumented seeking an end to their criminalization.

STOP the Demonization, Criminalization and Deportations of Immigrants and the Militarization of the Border!



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