Health Immigration Reproductive Rights

Whistleblower Reveals ICE Facility Practiced Forced Hysterectomies

On Monday, Dawn Wooton, a whistleblower who formerly worked as a nurse at an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facility in Georgia filed a complaint to the Department of Homeland Security inspector general, detailing medical neglect and a high rate of hysterectomies in the facility.

The facility is Irwin Detention Center, run by private corporation LaSalle Corrections, which runs 18 detention centers holding up to 13,000 people throughout the South.

Wooton is represented by Project South, a legal advocacy organization, and the Government Accountability Project, which provides representation for whistleblowers. The complaint is also signed by immigrant advocacy organizations Georgia Detention Watch, Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights, and South Georgia Immigrant Support Network.

Everybody he sees has a hysterectomy—just about everybody. He’s even taken out the wrong ovary on a young lady [detained immigrant woman]. She was supposed to get her left ovary removed because it had a cyst on the left ovary; he took out the right one. She was upset. She had to go back to take out the left and she wound up with a total hysterectomy,” Wooten explains in the complaint.

“She still wanted children—so she has to go back home now and tell her husband that she can’t bear kids… she said she was not all the way out under anesthesia and heard him [doctor] tell the nurse that he took the wrong ovary,” she continued.

Wooton also reported that the facility’s conditions have worsened in the face of COVID-19, with facility staff refusing to test detained immigrants in a timely manner, concealing the numbers of positive tests, and failing to separate those who have been exposed from those who have not. 

When Wooton spoke out against these practices, she was demoted, and immigrants who spoke out against the conditions were often pushed into solitary confinement.

One detained immigrant reported to Project South that she had spoken to five women at the facility who had had hysterectomies between October and December of 2019.

“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,” said the immigrant, whose name was not disclosed by the organization.

Wooton’s complaint does not disclose the number of people coerced into hysterectomies or the name of the gynocologist. ICE said that it does not comment on matters presented to the inspector general.

Sources: CNN 09/15/20; Project South 09/14/20; The Guardian 09/14/20; The Intercept 09/14/20

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