Page 22


Pho to by Av e Bon a r American foreign policy coming home in twos and threes tionable. A source in Bentsen’s office confirmed that on May 10, 1985, pursuant to a constituent complaint, the Senator’s office questioned the INS about the propriety of strip-searching “all detainees, including minor children, after they were visited by their attorneys.” On the following day the Senator’s office was informed by the INS that the practice would be discontinued. Anna Marfa Portillo’s claim was separated from the California lawsuit and her suit against CCA was transferred to a federal court in Texas. Crane said that company executives and attorneys had not yet decided whether they would litigate the case or try to reach an out-of-court settlement with Portillo. Attorneys representing Portillo said that they believe the company will try to settle. In early summer, CCA officials in Nashville began to make changes in the administration at the Laredo facility. John Gonzales, a retired Marine who previously worked at the military prison at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas, was replaced by an interim director, Ernie Godsey. According to Crane, Gonzales was replaced because company policies were not followed. After Gonzales’s departure food-service director Reynaldo Rodriguez was named acting security Hughes described the strip-searches as brutal and intimidating. “Their purpose was to create an atmosphere of fear and repression and they discourage [detainees] from seeing their attorneys,” he said. He related, from an affidavit, an incident in which guards demanded that a 13-year-old Nicaraguan girl that he represented in April of 1985 submit to a cavity-search: “The child was even required to remove a sanitary napkin while the guards and her 55-year-old mother watched. Then, though the mother pleaded with them that she never undressed in the presence her daughter, they forced her to remove all her clothing while the girl stood watching.” Hughes claimed that the Laredo Center was the only facility in the nation that practiced routine strip-searching of minors. Crane insists that the policy, although legal, was deemed by the company to be unnecessary and was abandoned soon after the center opened. Present CCA policy requires strip-searching only when there is cause to suspect that detainees are hiding contraband such as drugs or weapons. Hughes claimed that the company would not have changed its policy were it not for the attention from journalist Seymour Hersh and the intervention of U.S. Senator Lloyd Bentsen, who found the practice objec chief. Gonzales, who arrived soon after the facility opened, earned a reputation as a disciplinarian. Attorney Leslie Johnson complained, “If one kid did something wrong, he would have them all sit in chairs for eight or ten hours with nothing else to do.” \(Johnson documented one such complaint in a sworn detainee-declaration in April, Jose Hinojosa, a Laredo native who for the past seven years directed operations at the 500-bed Webb County jail, was recently named director at the center. Hinojosa began work on July 15 and would not comment on what had occurred during Gonzales’s tenure as director. However, he insisted that verbal abuse and requiring children to remain in their chairs for extended periods were, by his standards and CCA guidelines, unacceptable. “We’re dealing with human beings here,” Hinojosa said. HUMAN BEINGS, say Hughes and Johnson, who are charged with no crimes. INS agent Saenz offered a similar observation. “They’re pretty good folks,” Saenz said. “It’s an unusual situation because they haven’t violated a criminal law. Their only crime is entering the country.” Detainees apprehended in the San THE TEXAS OBSERVER 9