San Antonio, TX – A civil rights group asked a federal court today to order the immediate release from immigration detention of a Salvadoran asylum seeker who has attempted suicide and has been denied adequate medical care for her mental health needs.
MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund) filed a writ of habeas corpus petition challenging the detention of Laura Monterrosa-Flores, who has been held since last May at the T. Don Hutto Residential Center, an immigrant detention facility in Taylor, Texas. The petition charges that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Hutto officials, including a psychiatrist, were aware that Ms. Monterrosa-Flores has post-traumatic stress disorder and major depressive disorder but failed to conduct a full psychiatric evaluation or to adequately treat her psychiatric conditions.
After months of denial of proper care, Ms. Monterrosa-Flores’ mental health deteriorated further when she was placed in solitary confinement. She attempted suicide in January.
“It’s clear that Hutto is either unable or unwilling to ensure our client receives the medical care she so desperately needs,” said Celina Moreno, MALDEF interim Southwest regional counsel. “We are filing this request with the court because our client can’t afford to wait, not given Hutto’s troubled history and ICE’s indifference to its own rules.”
Named as defendants in the petition are ICE, which contracts with Hutto to detain immigrants; Daniel Bible, director of the San Antonio field office of ICE’s Office of Enforcement and Removal Operations; Hutto warden Charlotte Collins; and Dr. Lynda M. Parker, an ICE psychiatrist. The petition notes that on at least one occasion, Dr. Parker discouraged Ms. Monterrosa-Flores from reporting and seeking treatment for her mental disability by suggesting that it would hurt her immigration case.
MALDEF also filed a request for a temporary restraining order asking the court to order the defendants to provide adequate medical care for Ms. Monterrosa-Flores and to stop them from holding her in solitary confinement.
Hutto has a notorious history of mistreating detainees. A former state prison, it was repurposed as a family detention center that was the subject of a lawsuit for failing, among other claims, to provide adequate health care and educational opportunities for children. That suit resulted in a settlement that set new government standards for detention facilities.
Hutto was later converted to house only adult women, but the abuse of detainees continued. An ICE officer was fired in 2007 for having sex with a female detainee in her cell, and widespread allegations of sexual assault surfaced after a guard was charged in 2009 with assaulting women he was transporting.
The petition, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas in Austin, claims that the defendants have violated the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which prohibits discrimination based on disability, and the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment, which requires that all detainees receive adequate medical care, including mental health care, while in custody. The petition asks the court to order Ms. Monterrosa-Flores’ immediate release to address her mental health, or to order federal officials to immediately provide necessary medical care for her at Hutto.