A whistleblower, nurse Dawn Wooten, has revealed shocking new allegations about the treatment of individuals who have been detained at the Irwin County Detention Center, which is a Georgia facility operated by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). According to Wooten, female detainees at the facility were subject to a startlingly high rate of hysterectomies and overall “medical neglect,” as CNN explains. One female detainee at the facility told a social justice organization involved in the case that she had spoken to five different fellow female detainees between October and December 2019 who had hysterectomies. The immigrant says that when she “met all these women who had had surgeries, [she] thought this was like an experimental concentration camp.”
Wooten filed her complaint (via several social justice organizations) with the inspector general for the Department of Homeland Security. She noted in the document, discussing the hysterectomies, that “everybody’s uterus cannot be that bad.”
Referring to the doctor responsible for the procedures on the detained women, Wooten explained the following in her complaint:
‘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. 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.’
As outlined in her complaint, Wooten explained that “the sick call nurse tries to communicate with the detained immigrants and speak Spanish to detained immigrants by simply googling Spanish or by asking another detained immigrant to help interpret” rather than using the “language line” as they’re supposed to, which sounds like a dedicated telephone line for connecting with qualified interpreters. Wooten added:
‘These immigrant women, I don’t think they really, totally, all the way understand this is what’s going to happen depending on who explains it to them.’
If true, the appalling conditions described at an ICE detention facility — including allegations of mass hysterectomies performed on immigrant women — are a staggering abuse of human rights. @DHSOIG must immediately investigate these allegations. https://t.co/Rkr3yLt54r
— Nancy Pelosi (@SpeakerPelosi) September 15, 2020
The whistleblower complaint has sparked outrage. The conditions that are described in the document are yet another example of the brazen abuses of the human rights of detained immigrants that have occurred under the Trump administration. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), for instance, commented that “[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. This profoundly disturbing situation recalls some of the darkest moments of our nation’s history.” These “dark moments” include forced sterilizations of black women that were undertaken with an aim of forcibly reducing the population of those targeted, as lawyer Kristen Clarke noted.
Mass hysterectomies have a long and ugly history.
Fannie Lou Hamer received a forced hysterectomy by a white doctor without her consent while having surgery to remove a uterine tumor. Forced sterilization of Black women was viewed as a weapon to reduce the Black population. pic.twitter.com/9U3CnivYix
— Kristen Clarke (@KristenClarkeJD) September 15, 2020
This situation is far from the first time that the Trump administration’s treatment of detained immigrants has been put under the microscope. Horror stories have repeatedly emerged of the dismal and often dangerous conditions that asylum-seekers have been kept in. In one particularly memorable example, it took pressure from outside lawyers who visited a detention facility to get the government to provide medical care for four severely ill immigrant toddlers, one of whom was unresponsive.