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Questions Surround Women's Hunger Strikes in Texas Immigrant Detention

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Women who are detained Hutto center for crossing the border illegally have been on hunger strikes since October, but the protest is now broken.

From Texas Standard:

Undocumented immigrant women detained in the privately run T. Don Hutto Residential Detention Facility went on a hunger strike in October.

Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which oversees the operation, has denied there ever was a hunger strike, saying that an individual has to miss nine consecutive meals for such a protest to be called a true hunger strike.


The Texas Standard’s Joy Diaz has an update on the situation. She says it’s important to note that reporters – including herself – have yet to gain access to the facilities.

"We can only report on what two of our sources tell us: ICE ... and two advocates who visit these facilities,” Diaz says.

In the case of the Hutto detention center, ICE says one thing and the advocates are saying another.

“Advocates tell us as many as perhaps hundreds were on hunger strike. ICE tells us no," Diaz says. “What advocates are telling us that some women are protesting their detention and in order to do so they are forgoing meals – and that is confirmed."

One thing is for sure, however. Diaz says the hunger strike is now intermittent.

"These protests are broken,” she says. “Some women are forgoing meals, some others have resumed taking their meals. ICE has also told us that they are moving women to other facilities. They don't say that it is to break up the fast, but they do say that this is a routine – that they move detainees constantly."

In April, women at the Karnes County Detention Center also went on hunger strike. Diaz says while the effectiveness of the Hutto strike is hard to gauge because of the differences between the two centers and the women who are being detained there.

"It's really difficult to measure the effectiveness of these protests,” Diaz says.

At the Hutto center, the women being detained have also committed crimes, unlike at Karnes.

“[At Karnes] advocates could say that that protest was effective because eventually all the women that were detained there were released," Diaz says. "But that was a family detention facility. These women had their children with them, and a judge in California said it was unconstitutional to hold children."

Beth Cortez-Neavel is a Digital Team member and web editor for the Texas Standard. She started in radio as a KUT intern in 2009 and returned to the Standard as part of its digital team in April 2015. She’s been happily working behind the scenes since. Beth has a M.A. in Journalism from the University of Texas at Austin. She loves long-form news and radio. Her work has appeared on the Texas Observer, the Austin Monitor, KUT and the Austin-American-Statesman.
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