Protesters storm T. Don Hutto

“Comunidades Si, Jaulas No,” which translates to “Communities Yes, Cages No” in English were chanted as words of encouragement for detainees, and to protest against a renewal contract for the T. Don Hutto Detention Center.

Austin-based action group Grassroots Leadership, along with former detainees raised their voices at the Communities Not Cages protest at the T. Don Hutto Detention Center Saturday, Nov. 16.

“We believe in a world without detention and we believe that we need to invest in policies that make our communities healthier and stronger,” said Grassroots Leadership Immigration Researcher and Organizer Bethany Carson. “We’re here to say that our community does not want this future and [we’re going to] call our local representatives to do anything in their power to end these contracts.”

Activists and critics of the center have been fighting to shut down the center for over 10 years and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has issued a solicitation for three new 10-year contracts for detention centers in Texas, including the detention center in Taylor.

The detention center has been accused of inhumane treatment of detainees, which involves mental, physical and sexual abuse.

Grassroots Leadership believes detainees deserve a better life, one that doesn’t involve inhumane detainment.

According to the multiple detainees, women as young as 18 years old have been beaten while in custody. Detention guards have also allegedly barred detainees from receiving visits or even talking to each other.

Former detainee Brendy Galdamez said all she wanted was her freedom.

“What we’ve always said and continue to say is that we didn’t want better food, a bed or any of these things. What we really wanted and needed, was our freedom,” she said.

Issues that were discussed about the center not only included abuse, but mother-child separation and inadequate medical attention. The age group most affected by these insufficient medical needs are senior-aged female detainees (aged 55 and older,) who need more medical attention because of age.

“We have some nurses, but if anything is wrong with you, they only give you ibuprofen and other pain killers regardless of what you’re medical condition is,” Galdamez said.

She said the center was often cold and gave her and other detainees sicknesses that go untreated.

Detainees often said they felt dehumanized. One said she faced mental and physical abuse during her five-month detainment and said guards abused their power when she would ask for help when she was sick. Another detainee had young sons and was separated from her daughter. She said she had no privacy and she and her sons had to use the restroom in front of each other.

Immigration Organizer Sulma Franco is also a former detainee said her story among others will impact detainment issues in a major way.

“It was very hard [to share my story], but it was extremely necessary,” she said. “If anything is going to happen, it is going to be led by the people who were directly impacted by these places. It’s important to make sure these centers are shut down and [the women that are still there] are not alone and we will fight together.”

Carson said the contracts are part of a new pattern that could allow ICE to expand detention across the country and could continue into the next presidential administration.

“We really are all on the same page and want to have healthy communities that have resources they need to thrive and that are not dependent on prisons or harming others to make a living,” she said. “We are really invested in long term health and well-being of people in Taylor and we hope that folks here get involved in what we’re doing and vote to close down this place, in addition to looking at alternative that will better this community.”

For more information on Grassroots Leadership, visit grassrootsleadership.org.

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