At Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainment centers, undocumented detainees are being subjected to “questionable” hysterectomies and are being denied COVID tests, according to a whistleblower. Dawn Wooten, a nurse who worked at the Irwin County Detention Center in Ocilla, GA recently filed a whistleblower complaint alleging medical neglect. A group of congressional Democrats are now calling for the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general to investigate these claims.
“If true, the appalling conditions described in the whistleblower complaint – including allegations of mass hysterectomies being performed on vulnerable immigrant women – are a staggering abuse of human rights,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, one of the lawmakers pushing for an investigation, said in a statement. “This profoundly disturbing situation recalls some of the darkest moments of our nation’s history, from the exploitation of Henrietta Lacks, to the horror of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, to the forced sterilizations of Black women that Fannie Lou Hamer and so many others underwent and fought.”
On Sept. 15, 2020, 169 Congress members sent a letter urging DHS Inspector General Joseph Cuffari to investigate the allegations of mass hysterectomies urgently. They are demanding a status of the investigation by Sept. 25.
The Irwin County Detention Center that Wooten worked at houses migrants detained by ICE and is owned by the private company LaSalle Corrections. The Government Accountability Project, a whistleblower protection organization and Project South, a social justice advocacy group are representing Wooten. A coalition of human rights groups signed onto the 27-page complaint that incorporated Wooten’s account.
Wooten said she faced a “retaliatory reprimand and demotion” in July after she missed work while awaiting results of a COVID-19 test. She believes she was demoted from full-time to as-needed in July because she was “asking hard questions about testing detained immigrants for COVID-19 and warning officers when detained immigrants they are in contact with have tested positive.”
Some other accusations in the complaint include
- Refusing to test detainees for COVID-19
- Shredding medical requests that detainees submitted
- Fabricating medical records
- Allowing employees who were symptomatic to work while awaiting COVID-19 test results
- Withholding information about who had tested positive
- Underreporting COVID-19 cases
- Allowing the transfer of detained immigrants to other facilities, including those who had tested positive for COVID-19
ICE has denied these claims as other advocacy groups including the Center for American Progress, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American Immigration Lawyers Association and the American Immigration Council are calling for thorough, immediate investigations.