AUSTIN, Texas – A Salvadoran woman who said a guard groped her inside an immigration detention facility has been released, advocates said.
Laura Monterrosa-Flores was released late Friday from the T. Don Hutto Residential Center outside of Austin, where she had been held for months, Grassroots Leadership organizer Bethany Carson told The Associated Press on Saturday.
“She’s able to go about her life and recover from the abuses that she suffered in detention and before that, in El Salvador,” Carson said.
The Mexican American Legal Defence and Educational Fund, which had sued on Monterrosa-Flores’ behalf, said in a statement Saturday that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security agreed to release her under deferred action, which provides individuals temporary relief from deportation.
Earlier this month, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, an agency within the department, agreed to allow Monterrosa-Flores to leave the facility on a weekly basis to receive treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder and depression. Advocates said that she attempted suicide in January after being denied a request for mental health care.
Carson said Monterrosa-Flores will receive counselling while waiting for her asylum case to proceed.
While the AP doesn’t usually identify alleged victims of sexual assault, Monterrosa-Flores agreed to come forward publicly.
Months after accusing a female guard at the Hutto facility of groping her and suggesting they have sex, Monterrosa-Flores told the AP that she continued to see the guard in the dining hall and other parts of the facility.
“I told her that I was going to tell the supervisor what was happening,” Monterrosa-Flores said in a phone interview from the facility. “She sarcastically said, ‘Do you think they’ll believe you or me?'”
The FBI opened a civil rights investigation into Monterrosa-Flores’ case. ICE has said that it has implemented “strong protections” for people who are sexually assaulted in detention facilities.
About 40,000 people are being held in immigration detention, many in private facilities under contracts with ICE. Many of those people have sought asylum in the United States, saying they have a credible fear of returning to their home countries.
Monterrosa-Flores arrived at the southern U.S. border last May after fleeing El Salvador, where she said she was forced into prostitution by her family. She said that an uncle, a policeman, raped her.
If her asylum claim is denied, she could be deported.
U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, a Texas Democrat, applauded Monterrosa-Flores’ release and ICE’s granting of deferred action.
“We need answers and action from ICE to prevent sexual assaults during detention and to ensure that victims do not experience retaliation when they come forward,” he said in a statement.