Several legal advocacy groups on Monday filed a whistleblower complaint on behalf of a nurse at an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention center documenting "jarring medical neglect" within the facility, including a refusal to test detainees for the novel coronavirus and an exorbitant rate of hysterectomies being performed on immigrant women.
The nurse, Dawn Wooten, was employed at the Irwin County Detention Center (ICDC) in Georgia, which is operated by LaSalle Corrections, a private prison company. The complaint was filed with the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) by advocacy groups Project South, Georgia Detention Watch, Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights, and South Georgia Immigrant Support Network.
Multiple women came forward to tell Project South about what they perceived to be the inordinate rate at which women in ICDC were subjected to hysterectomies – a surgical operation in which all or part of the uterus is removed. Additionally, many of the immigrant women who underwent the procedure were reportedly "confused" when asked to explain why they had the surgery, with one detainee likening their treatment to prisoners in concentration camps.
"Recently, a detained immigrant told Project South that she talked to five different women detained at ICDC between October and December 2019 who had a hysterectomy done," the complaint stated. "When she talked to them about the surgery, the women 'reacted confused when explaining why they had one done.' The woman told Project South that it was as though the women were 'trying to tell themselves it's going to be OK.'"
"When I met all these women who had had surgeries, I thought this was like an experimental concentration camp. It was like they're experimenting with our bodies," the detainee said.
According to Wooten, ICDC consistently used a particular gynecologist – outside the facility – who almost always opted to remove all or part of the uterus of his female detainee patients.
"Everybody he sees has a hysterectomy—just about everybody," Wooten said, adding that, "everybody's uterus cannot be that bad."
"We've questioned among ourselves like goodness he's taking everybody's stuff out…That's his specialty, he's the uterus collector. I know that's ugly…is he collecting these things or something…Everybody he sees, he's taking all their uteruses out or he's taken their tubes out. What in the world."
Wooten – who is being represented in the matter by the Government Accountability Project – also confirmed that many of the detained women told her that they didn't understand why they were being forced to have the procedure. She explained that some of the nurses who didn't speak Spanish obtained consent from detainees "by simply googling Spanish."
The complaint details several accounts from detainees, including one woman who was not properly anesthetized during the procedure and heard the aforementioned doctor tell the nurse he had mistakenly removed the wrong ovary, resulting in her losing all reproductive ability. Another said she was scheduled for the procedure but when she questioned why it was necessary, she was given at least three completely different answers.
"She was originally told by the doctor that she had an ovarian cyst and was going to have a small twenty-minute procedure done drilling three small holes in her stomach to drain the cyst," according to the complaint. "The officer who was transporting her to the hospital told her that she was receiving a hysterectomy to have her womb removed. When the hospital refused to operate on her because her COVID-19 test came back positive for antibodies, she was transferred back to ICDC where the ICDC nurse said that the procedure she was going to have done entailed dilating her vagina and scraping tissue off. "
Another nurse then told her the procedure was to mitigate her heavy menstrual bleeding, which the woman had never experienced. When she explained that, the nurse "responded by getting angry and agitated and began yelling at her."
According to The Intercept, ICE declined to comment on the allegations in the complaint, while a LaSalle Corrections spox said it was "firmly committed to the health and welfare of those in our care."
"We are deeply committed to delivering high-quality, culturally responsive services in safe and humane environments," the person said.
Jerry Lambe, Law&Crime, September 15, 2020.
Law&Crime reached out to ICE for comment. Law&Crime also reached out to DHS OIG to ask whether it has received the complaint and whether it will investigate the allegations in it. We will update this story if we receive responses.
Here is the update.
UPDATE, 7:59 p.m.: U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has responded to this story with a statement that said, generally speaking, "anonymous, unproven allegations, made without any fact-checkable specifics" should be treated with skepticism. The agency said it takes "all allegations seriously" and defers to the DHS Office of Inspector General.
The full statement:
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) does not comment on matters presented to the Office of the Inspector General, which provides independent oversight and accountability within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. ICE takes all allegations seriously and defers to the OIG regarding any potential investigation and/or results. That said, in general, anonymous, unproven allegations, made without any fact-checkable specifics, should be treated with the appropriate skepticism they deserve.
The agency maintains that the Irwin County Detention Center has been inspected multiple times, with and without warning, and that the facility has been found to be in compliance with Performance Based National Detention Standards.
September 15, 2020
Voices4America Post Script. Forced hysterectomies! By my nation! On us! Investigate at once. #StopICE #EndTrumpEvil #MakeAmericaGoodAgain #BidenHarris2020
Don’t let this Whistleblower complaint get buried. #NewTrumpMonstrositiesDaily