Progressive Caucus co-chair: Whistleblower complaint raises questions about 'entire detention system'

Progressive Caucus co-chair: Whistleblower complaint raises questions about 'entire detention system'
© Bonnie Cash

Washington Rep. Pramila JayapalPramila JayapalDHS opens probe into allegations at Georgia ICE facility Progressive Caucus co-chair: Whistleblower complaint raises questions about 'entire detention system' Buttigieg, former officials added to Biden's transition team MORE (D) Wednesday said she was briefed by lawyers representing women who allegedly received unwarranted hysterectomies while in custody at an immigration detention center in Georgia. 

In a Twitter thread, Jayapal said "there may be a minimum of 17" women subjected to the procedure without proper verification of consent, and that the procedures were performed "with the clear intention of sterilization."

Jayapal, co-chair of the powerful Congressional Progressive Caucus, is the first public official to verify the claims first revealed in a whistleblower complaint filed Monday against the Irwin County Detention Center (ICDC) in Georgia. The complaint is based on the testimony of unnamed detainees and information provided by Dawn Wooten, an ICDC nurse turned protected whistleblower. 

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In that report, Wooten said women at ICDC were routinely taken to see a gynecologist, who allegedly over-prescribed the procedure.

"Everybody he sees has a hysterectomy—just about everybody," said Wooten, according to the report. 

A separate whistleblower complaint was filed solely based on Wooten's assertions, outlining a pattern of medical mismanagement at the facility, for the most part related to COVID-19.

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But the allegations of improper hysterectomies raised alarms among a wide swath of public officials, many of whom have been critical of immigration detention centers in the past.

"These stories contain many consistencies and raise serious questions about not only this particular doctor but about the entire detention system—largely for-profit—that is complicit in the abuses and has long neglected the health, wellbeing, and human rights of immigrants," wrote Jayapal.

Officials with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) – the agency that manages internal immigration detention – have cast doubt on the allegations, although a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) investigation was triggered by the whistleblower reports.

"The accusations will be fully investigated by an independent office, however, ICE vehemently disputes the implication that detainees are used for experimental medical procedures," said Dr. Ada Rivera, medical director of the ICE Health Service Corps (IHSC) in a statement Wednesday.

Rivera said all female detainees receive gynecological care, adding that according to ICE data, only two women detained at ICDC have been referred for – and both received – hysterectomies since 2018.

"To be clear, medical care decisions concerning detainees are made by medical personnel, not by law enforcement personnel. Detainees are afforded informed consent, and a medical procedure like a hysterectomy would never be performed against a detainee’s will," said Rivera.

Rivera also took a swipe at Wooten, saying "it is unfortunate that those involved in this report have chosen to first go to the media with their allegations, without allowing the government to examine or take appropriate action." 

Jayapal, a prominent member of the House Judiciary Committee and its Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security, vowed to keep pressure on ICE and DHS. 

"I will continue investigating. ICE must immediately ensure that any person who may have been subjected to forced medical procedures immediately be assured the ability to remain in the U.S. so that we can follow all the facts and get to the bottom of these horrific allegations," wrote Jayapal.