INhen sexual-assault counselor Elia Alvarado first met Maria in 2007, Maria was wearing a blue prison uniform, sitting in a doctor’s office at the Port Isabel Detention Center. She was in her early 30s, but looked haggard, Alvarado recalls, older then her age. Two months and more than 1,500 miles after leaving Honduras, she had been detained at the border and taken to the immigration holding facility north of Brownsville. Maria, a single mother, had left her 8-year-old daughter at home, she told Alvarado, and paid a man to take her to the border. Her ultimate destination, she said, was the Northeast, where a friend had promised to find her work as a housekeeper. “I went to send money home for my daughter,” she told Alvarado in a subsequent counseling session. “This was how I planned to support my family.” Maria and several other Hondurans were guided on a journey by car and train, she said. At night, they stayed in ramshackle homes, sleeping on crowded floors. One of those nights, just before she reached the border, she said that a man grabbed her near an abandoned shack where the immigrants were staying. He forced himself on her, leaving Maria defenseless, the only witness to the violent act. Afterward, Maria blamed herself. She wondered if this was what she deserved for leaving her daughter. Days later, as the group waded quietly through the Rio Grande, Maria carried the secret with her. It was something she planned to tell no one. Not long after crossing the river, she heard the engine of a Border Patrol truck, saw the green uniforms coming at her. Within minutes, she was corralled into the backseat of a Border Patrol pickup. Weeks after the rape, Maria took a pregnancy test at the detention centera mandatory procedure for female detainees between ages 10 and 50. An official from the Division of Immigration Health Services took the test away and came back to tell Maria the news: She was pregnant. In 2008, 10,653 women were detained by U.S. Immigration woman Cori Bassett, 965 of those women nearly 10 percent were pregnant. Many of them, like Maria, were raped on their way to the United Statesa journey known to be dangerous for any willing to take it, but especially so for women. For two months, while Maria awaited her detention hearing, Alvarado says they met about once every two weeks to talk about the ordeal. Maria asked about her options for ending the pregnancy. “I can’t do it,” Alvarado remembers her saying. “The baby’s face will just remind me of himthe man who did this” But Maria ran into a practice limiting the reproductive rights of ICE detainees. For pregnant women in immigration deten tion facilities, it is virtually impossible to obtain an abortion. According to Bassett, in fact, “Preliminary records indicated that during fiscal year ’08 and ’09 to date, no detainee has had a pregnancy terminated while in ICE custody.” Not a single one. “I told her, ‘If you weren’t in detention, these would be your Elia Alvarado: “It’s not that I don’t want the baby, they would tell me. It’s just the way it was conceived.” options,” Alvarado says. “But while she was detained, it just wasn’t a possibility:’ It was a line Alvarado had used many times before. As sexualassault coordinator at Harlingen’s Family Crisis Center, she had agreed to let ICE contact her when abuse victims at Port Isabel, which holds up to 1,200 immigrants, requested counseling. Because ICE does not employ such counselors, the agency depends on people like Alvarado, even though they’re not on its payroll. \(The agency would neither confirm nor deny having For five years beginning in 2003, Alvarado says she counseled about 50 detainees whose rapes had resulted in pregnancies. More than half, she says, asked about ways of ending their pregnancies. Alvarado couldn’t help them. “That was just the policy,” she says. FEBRUARY 20, 2009 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 9
You May Also Like
The documentary in Falfurrias is sinister and spiritual.