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Exclusive: Detained Honduran Woman, Moved to Mostly Male TX Prison After Hunger Strike, Speaks Out

Web ExclusiveNovember 24, 2015
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Image Credit: Human Rights First

At the end of October, 27 immigrant women detainees began a hunger strike, demanding an end to mistreatment and their immediate release from the T. Don Hutto detention center near Austin, Texas. Most of the women were asylum seekers from Central America, which has seen a surge in migrants fleeing violence and abuse. The hunger strike reportedly surged to as many as 125 women, even as immigration officials denied it was taking place. Then, the hunger strikers said they faced retaliation. At least two women who participated in the hunger strike were transferred from the women’s detention center near Austin to an overwhelmingly male detention center run by the GEO Group, another major private prison operator, in Pearsall, Texas, nearly 200 miles away. On Thursday, one of those two women, Amalia Leal, a Honduran asylum seeker, called Democracy Now!’s Amy Littlefield from detention. She has been detained for seven months after re-entering the United States following a prior deportation. “We came to seek refuge, and instead we found punishment,” Leal said.

To see our interview with Francisca Morales Macías, a Mexican domestic abuse survivor who was transferred along with Amalia Leal after taking part in the hunger strike, click here.

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Video squareWeb ExclusiveApr 14, 2017Immigrants on Hunger Strike over Conditions as Trump Admin. Plans to Gut Protections for Detainees
Transcript
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. We turn now to the latest developments in Democracy Now!'s coverage of the Obama administration's detention of asylum seekers in privately run prisons. At the end of October, 27 immigrant women detainees began a hunger strike, demanding an end to mistreatment and their immediate release from the T. Don Hutto detention center in Austin, Texas, which is run by the Corrections Corporation of America, one of the largest private prison companies in this country.

Most of the women were asylum seekers from Central America, which has seen a surge in migrants fleeing violence and abuse. The detainees said they faced threats and unjustified surveillance as they languished in custody without hope of freedom. The hunger strike reportedly surged to as many as 125 women, even as immigration officials denied it was taking place.

Then, the hunger strikers said they faced retaliation. At least two women who participated in the hunger strike were transferred from the women’s detention center in Austin, Texas, to an overwhelmingly male detention center run by the GEO Group, another major private prison operator, in Pearsall, Texas, nearly 200 miles away.

On Thursday, one of the imprisoned women, Amalia Leal, called Democracy Now!’s Amy Littlefield from the Pearsall detention center, where she had been moved after taking part in the hunger strike. Leal is from Honduras. She said she has been detained for about seven months after re-entering the United States following a prior deportation.

AMY LITTLEFIELD: Amalia, where are you detained?

AMALIA LEAL: [translated] I have been detained in various places. I was in the Port Isabel detention center. Then, from Port Isabel, I was brought to a detention center in Laredo, Texas. From Laredo, I was at the T. Don Hutto detention center in Taylor, Texas, near Austin. And from there, I was brought to a detention center called South Texas, which is about 45 minutes from San Antonio.

AMY LITTLEFIELD: And why did they transport you to the South Texas Detention Facility in Pearsall?

AMALIA LEAL: [translated] They brought us here from the T. Don Hutto detention center because there was a hunger strike there. Many people were protesting because we want our freedom. We have spent a lot of time appealing our cases, and we are not receiving answers. And when they call us, they always tell us that they are postponing us or giving us other dates. And the truth is, we’ve spent a lot of time in detention, and we can’t tolerate this much time.

AMY LITTLEFIELD: Do you think they transported you in retaliation for your participation in the hunger strike?

AMALIA LEAL: [translated] Yes, I think so, because the hunger strike had just begun on a Wednesday, and in the Hutto detention center every Thursday, each week, they give a talk to the new people. And in that talk, they told us that all of the people participating in the strike were going to realize something, that we were going to be punished, that they were going to send us to another detention center where we were going to stay locked up 24 hours a day. I was one of the first to be moved out of Hutto, along with another woman, Francisca. And they isolated Francisca in a room, supposedly because she was one of the ones who started the hunger strike, and so they put her in a punishment room.

AMY LITTLEFIELD: What do you most want people in the United States to understand?

AMALIA LEAL: [translated] I am on my second entry, meaning it’s the second time I entered the United States. And for me, I think that it’s unjust that they have detained us for so much time, because I think we have the right to bond. We came to seek refuge, and instead we found punishment.

What I want people to understand is that they should support us, because it’s true that we have entered the United States for a second time, but I want to apply for bond. I’m on strike because I want my freedom. I can’t tolerate imprisonment anymore, because I am between four walls, and I think this has a psychological impact. We come from our own country with our own problems, and many times, we can’t get out of these problems. We’re trapped, imprisoned. And now, we’ve come to another form of imprisonment. For me, I think it’s an injustice.

AMY GOODMAN: Honduran immigrant Amalia Leal, speaking to Democracy Now!'s Amy Littlefield from an overwhelmingly male detention center in Pearsall, Texas. She said she was moved there from a women's detention center in Austin after participating in a hunger strike. Both detention centers are run by for-profit prison companies. Amalia Leal has been held for more than seven months in the United States. I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks for joining us.

The original content of this program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Please attribute legal copies of this work to democracynow.org. Some of the work(s) that this program incorporates, however, may be separately licensed. For further information or additional permissions, contact us.

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