A hunger strike at a Texas immigrant detention center for women has swelled from 27 women to potentially hundreds, and three ringleaders have faced retaliation from the facility, activists said on Tuesday.
Women at T. Don Hutto Residential Center in Taylor, Texas, began the strike last Wednesday in hopes of being released, said Cristina Parker of Grassroots Leadership, a group publicizing the women's protest.
"They're only after one thing, and that's release," Parker said.
Female detainees told Parker's organization this week that almost all of them are now participating in the strike, she said. That could include up to 500 people -- the facility's full capacity. RH Reality Check first reported on the strike's expansion.
The women also told activists they are facing retaliation from Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Corrections Corporation of America, the private prison company that operates the Hutto facility.
Parker said one woman was placed in solitary confinement from Saturday to either Sunday evening or Monday morning, and said prison employees turned up the air conditioning to make it uncomfortably cold. Officials transferred two other women from the Hutto facility and they are now being detained in another immigrant center in Texas, according to ICE's detainee locator tool.
ICE agents are pressuring the hunger strikers to eat by placing food in front of them and demanding they eat it, according to Parker. She also said they're being barred from going outside after 5 p.m.
Corrections Corporation of America referred questions to Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials, who denied the women's allegations.
“ICE takes the health, safety, and welfare of those in our care very seriously and we continue to monitor the situation," a spokeswoman said in a statement. "Currently, no one at the T. Don Hutto Detention Center was identified as being on a hunger strike or refusing to eat."
The ICE spokeswoman said the agency routinely transfers people to other facilities for various reasons, and that the Hutto center does not have solitary confinement areas. Women are allowed recreation time until 8 p.m., she added. Agents told detainees that failing to eat can have negative effects on health, the spokeswoman said.
Immigrant detainees have participated in hunger strikes in the past, and claimed there was retaliation. In April, three mothers in the Karnes County Residential Center sued ICE and the GEO Group, another private prison company that operates the facility, alleging they were punished for participating in a 78-person hunger strike.