Story at a glance
- A 27-page complaint was filed against a Georgia immigration detention center on Monday, detailing a number of concerning allegations pertaining to the ethics of the center’s protocols.
- The complaint was spearheaded by former nurse Dawn Wooten, who was demoted by the center back in July.
- Top congressional Democrats are now demanding an investigation into Wooten’s claims, which include the practice of alleged involuntary hysterectomies.
An immigration detention center in Georgia allegedly performed questionable mass hysterectomies, refused to test detainees for COVID-19 and shredded medical records, according to a nurse who filed a whistleblower complaint to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) inspector general on Monday.
Top congressional Democrats are now calling for a federal investigation into the matter after Dawn Wooten, a licensed practical nurse who was employed by Irwin county detention center for three years, reported “jarring medical neglect” and concerning information about a gynecologist referred to as “the uterus collector.”
"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," said Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). "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."
Also included in the group of legislators demanding an investigation into the matter are House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chairman Joaquin Castro and Sens. Cory Booker and Richard Blumenthal.
On Wednesday, the DHS's internal watchdog reportedly said in a statement that it would open a probe into the allegations.
The facility in question is owned by LaSalle Corrections — a private company that operates similar facilities in three Southern states. Ocilla, about 200 miles south of Atlanta, houses both men and women detainees for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and inmates for the U.S. Marshals Service and Irwin County.
According to Wooten’s report, the facility demoted her 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."
The report also alleges that the facility refused to test detainees for COVID-19, shredded detained immigrants’ medical requests, fabricated medical records, allowed employees to work while symptomatic, withheld information, underreported cases and allowed the transfer of detained immigrants that had tested positive for the virus.
Among the most disturbing of Wooten’s allegations are those of sketchy hysterectomy surgeries — a procedure in which part or all of the uterus is removed - being performed on Spanish-speaking immigrants. According to Wooten, many did not appear to understand why they had undergone the procedure, and in one case the gynecologist mentioned, but not explicitly named, removed the wrong ovary from a young immigrant woman’s body — rendering her unable to carry a child.
"For years, advocates in Georgia have raised red flags about the human rights violations occurring inside the Irwin County Detention Center," said Priyanka Bhatt, a staff attorney at Project South, in a statement. "Ms. Wooten's whistleblowing disclosures confirm what detained immigrants have been reporting for years: gross disregard for health and safety standards, lack of medical care, and unsanitary living conditions at Irwin."
This isn’t the first time ICE has faced scrutiny over its handling of COVID-19 at one of its detention centers, with the inspector general opening an investigation of the agency’s practices back in May. Last Friday, The Washington Post also reported that ICE had fueled a large outbreak of the virus at a Virginia facility by flying detainees there to facilitate the deployment of ICE agents to protests in Washington, D.C. Ada Rivera, medical director of the ICE Health Service Corps, said ICE would fully cooperate with any resulting investigation by the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General, but said it wished Wooten had brought claims to ICE officials first.
"I became a whistleblower, now I'm a target," Wooten said at a press conference on Tuesday. But "I'll be a target anytime,” she said, rather than staying a part of what she called an "inhumane" system.
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