Democratic lawmakers call for an investigation into allegations of medical neglect at Georgia ICE facility

Democratic lawmakers call for an investigation into allegations of medical neglect at Georgia ICE facility
© Greg Nash

Democratic lawmakers on Tuesday called for an investigation into allegations detailed a day before in a whistleblower complaint over “jarring medical neglect” at an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention center in Georgia. 

The complaint alleges migrants and nurses at the Irwin County Detention Center reported “high rates of hysterectomies done to immigrant women,” with the whistleblower adding that there were also issues “of proper informed consent,” according to a copy of the complaint.

The whistleblower also alleges that the ICE center refused to test detained immigrants who had been exposed to the coronavirus or who were symptomatic for COVID-19. 

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Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chairman Joaquin CastroJoaquin CastroHispanic Caucus members embark on 'virtual bus tour' with Biden campaign Hispanic caucus report takes stock of accomplishments with eye toward 2021 Democratic lawmakers call for an investigation into allegations of medical neglect at Georgia ICE facility MORE (D-Texas) praised the whistleblower’s “courageous choice to speak up” in a statement calling for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) inspector general to “immediately investigate these serious allegations.” 

“These horrors must not remain hidden. The American people need to know exactly why and under what conditions that vulnerable women in ICE custody underwent hysterectomies,” Castro said in a statement

“Were Trump administration officials aware of any coerced procedures, and if so, what actions did they take, if any, to stop this abuse? Congress is already examining this disturbing complaint, and the DHS Inspector General must immediately investigate these serious allegations by conducting thorough on-the-ground inspections and not relying on statements from ICE agents and private contractors,” he added. 

Sen. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerBipartisan praise pours in after Ginsburg's death DHS opens probe into allegations at Georgia ICE facility Democratic lawmakers call for an investigation into allegations of medical neglect at Georgia ICE facility MORE (D-N.J.) sent a letter to the DHS Office of Inspector General requesting an immediate investigation into the allegations. 

“This whistleblower complaint is stunning and, if true, paints a disturbing picture at the Irwin County Detention Center,” Booker wrote. “Given the serious nature of the complaint, I urge your office to immediately conduct a thorough in-person investigation of the Irwin County Detention Center—including in-person interviews with relevant witnesses following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention COVID-19 guidance—and to further investigate DHS leaderships’ knowledge of the allegations as well as their possible involvement in the abuses.”

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The senator also urged the inspector general to start an investigation into whether the alleged misconduct also occurred at other ICE detention centers across the U.S. 

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) also called for a “thorough investigation” by the DHS inspector general in light of the whistleblower complaint, calling the allegations “depraved and cruel.” 

“The misconduct described here echoes forced sterilization campaigns of the past conducted by some of history’s worst villains. We as a nation are better than this return to long-rejected violations of human rights,” Blumenthal said in a statement. 

Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiPelosi: Ginsburg successor must uphold commitment to 'equality, opportunity and justice for all' Bipartisan praise pours in after Ginsburg's death Pelosi orders Capitol flags at half-staff to honor Ginsburg MORE (D-Calif.) issued a similar statement, stating that “if true” the allegations “are a staggering abuse of human rights,” and calling for an immediate investigation

“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,” the top House Democrat said. 

House Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerHouse Democrats postpone vote on marijuana decriminalization bill Democrats scramble on COVID-19 relief amid division, Trump surprise The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by The Air Line Pilots Association - Pence lauds Harris as 'experienced debater'; Trump, Biden diverge over debate prep MORE (D-Md.) also pushed for an immediate investigation into the “horrific allegation.” 

“If it is indeed true that immigrant women were forced to undergo hysterectomies without proper consent or proper medical cause, every individual who was involved in that undertaking — up to the highest levels — must be brought to justice,” Hoyer said in a statement. “Such crimes would be reminiscent of ... some of the bleakest moments in history, when the dignity of human life was violated by those who so callously viewed people of different races, religions, or origins as lesser. There must be an immediate investigation into this horrific allegation.”

A spokesperson for ICE told The Hill in a statement Tuesday that the agency "does not comment on matters presented to the Office of the Inspector General."

"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 spokesperson added.

The Hill reached out to the DHS Office of Inspector General for comment. 

ICE released a statement to outlets Monday evening, after the complaint was first reported, saying it is “firmly committed to the safety and welfare of all those in its custody.”

“Since the onset of reports of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), ICE epidemiologists have been tracking the outbreak, regularly updating infection prevention and control protocols, and issuing guidance to ICE Health Service Corps (IHSC) staff for the screening and management of potential exposure among detainees," ICE said in a statement, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.