More than 20 immigrant women begin hunger strike inside Texas detention center
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Some of the women, who began protest by refusing dinner on Wednesday, wrote letters about fears of being deported, as well as inhumane treatment in facilities

More than two-dozen women at an immigration detention center in Texas began a hunger strike on Wednesday in protest at the conditions and their ongoing incarceration, a civil rights group said.

Grassroots Leadership published 17 letters from the women and said that at least 27 began their protest by refusing dinner at the T Don Hutto residential center in Taylor, near Austin.

In the letters, some of the women express fears they will be in danger if they are forced to return to Central America. Other concerns include inedible food, poor medical care, inadequate legal representation, harsh treatment from officials and a capricious process that sees some cases resolved far more quickly than others.

“They leave us in here while fighting the case and at the end they tell us that our case has been denied after keeping us locked up for a long time and they send us back. Also, the food they give us here is very bad, gives us stomach problems, and is almost always the same. All human beings have rights and opportunities in this country and we believe that we have a right to bail,” Patricia, from El Salvador, wrote.

“There are grave injustices being committed, detentions spanning 8 months, 10 months, a year, a year and a half, just to end with them telling us that we have no rights and we will be deported with disdainful words and gestures to make us feel worthless,” wrote Magdrola, from Guatemala.

Another, Elda, from Guatemala, said that she has been detained since 22 December last year and that she will be deported because her case has just been denied. She said her two school-age daughters are US citizens who are depressed because they are not with their mother.

“They need me, they are very little,” she wrote.

Hutto -- a former state prison -- switched from a family detention center to a women-only facility in 2009 after a settlement following lawsuits over conditions for children that were brought by the American Civil Liberties Union.

It is run by a private company, the Corrections Corporation of America. A CCA spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment about the hunger strike and conditions. A US Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman said in a statement on Thursday that the agency is not aware of any strike: “ICE takes the health, safety, and welfare of those in our care very seriously and we continue to monitor the situation. Currently, no one at the T Don Hutto Detention Center was identified as being on a hunger strike or refusing to eat.”

South Asian men at centres in El Paso, Texas, and Jena, Louisiana, held hunger strikes earlier this month, while dozens of asylum-seeking mothers held a hunger strike at the Karnes City family detention center in Texas earlier this year, arguing they had unjustly been refused bond.

Jeh Johnson, the Homeland Security secretary, last month pledged to improve conditions and reduce the length of stays at Karnes and the country’s two other family detention centres, in Dilley, Texas, and Berks County, Pennsylvania, after a rapid expansion prompted by the influx of migrants in the summer of 2014.

“We are transitioning our family residential center facilities into processing centers where individuals can be interviewed and screened rather than detained for a prolonged period of time,” Johnson said.

Earlier this year, Dolly Gee, a federal judge in Los Angeles, strongly criticised the conditions in which children were held and ordered the Obama administration to release them as soon as possible, setting a deadline of last Friday to comply with her ruling, parts of which were appealed by the government.

Mohammad Abdollahi, a spokesman for Raices, a Texas-based legal advocacy group, said that they and other organisations are closely monitoring the centres to see whether they are complying with the judge’s instructions.

Grassroots Leadership has filed a lawsuit aiming to block the Texas Department of Family Protective Services from using an emergency rule to temporarily license the Texas centres as child-care facilities, which critics allege is a way for the federal government to claim that it is in line with Gee’s ruling without making fundamental improvements.