USA watchdog to investigate whistleblower's detention allegations

The Department of Homeland Security flag flies outside the Immigration and Customs Enforcement headquarters in Washington D.C

On Monday, Dawn Wooten, a nurse at the Irwin County Detention Centre (ICDC) in Georgia, filed a complaint alongside advocacy groups including, Project South, to the Office of the inspector general (OIG) at the Department of Homeland Security, according to Law and Crime.

A nurse has come forward to accuse a privately-run Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention facility in Georgia of performing hysterectomies on female illegal immigrants en masse, without medical necessity.

Speaking about the detainees' confusion around the surgery, Ms Wooten wrote in the complaint: "When I met all these women who had had surgeries, I thought this was like an experimental concentration camp".

"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 read.

"We call on DHS to conduct an investigation into the Irwin County Detention Center in order to protect the health and safety of the detained immigrants and the workers there".

"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, a California Democrat, said in a statement.

Wooten - who is being represented in the matter by the Government Accountability Project - also confirmed that numerous detained women told her that they didn't understand why they were being forced to have the procedure.

Another detainee reported that because the gynecologist did not properly sedate her, she overheard him saying that he had accidentally removed the wrong ovary, according to the complaint.

Advocacy group Project South has filed a complaint with the Homeland Security Department's internal watchdog that relies heavily on the nurse's words.

"Everybody he sees has a hysterectomy - just about everybody", Wooten said of the medical doctor.

Project South said the complaint alleges "jarring accounts from detained immigrants and Ms Wooten regarding the deliberate lack of medical care, unsafe work practices, and absence of adequate protection against Covid-19".

"We've questioned among ourselves like, 'Goodness, he's taking everybody's stuff out, '" Wooten said.

Benjamin Osorio, another lawyer representing women in the Irwin County facility, said two of his clients received hysterectomies that they believe may have been unnecessary. "I was told not to tell officers that there were detainees they dealt with day in and day out that were positive". When she countered one of the reasons given by noting that the justification of reducing her menstrual bleeding didn't fit with her medical history, a nurse "responded by getting angry and agitated, and began yelling at her", the complaint states.

The facility houses immigrant detainees in the custody of ICE, which is a part of the Department of Homeland Security.

LaSalle Corrections has so far refused to comment on the allegations.

Wooten claimed she was eventually fired from the facility for raising concerns about COVID-19.

"I know I was demoted because I raised questions about why", Wooten said during the news conference.

She also said that there was not enough active testing of the immigrant detainees for the coronavirus and that the facility was not "reporting all these cases that are positive", meaning the number of cases at the facility was possibly much higher than that reported by ICE.

"A lot of them said that they didn't understand what was being done to them". 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 said in a statement.

According to Wooten, ICDC consistently used a particular gynecologist - outside the facility - who nearly always opted to remove all or part of the uterus of his female detainee patients. The complaints also say the center failed to maintain acceptable levels of hygiene and sanitation in exam rooms and declined to provide personal protective equipment to medical and correctional staff.



Other news