A whistleblower complaint alleges wide-scale medical negligence at a detention center run by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The whistleblower, a nurse who worked at the center in Georgia, claims that immigrants held there feared for their lives due to weak COVID-19 protocols. Additionally, detainees who spoke out faced retaliatory tactics by guards. But perhaps most troubling, the report reveals an unusual amount of hysterectomies being performed on detained immigrant women.
The 27-page report comes from Project South, a social justice and advocacy organization. It released the complaint on behalf of Dawn Wooten, a practical nurse who works at Irwin County Detention Center. It is there where she witnessed the abuses firsthand.
By Tuesday, Washington lawmakers were urging the Inspector General for the Department of Homeland Security to investigate the report’s allegations. Both Project South and congressional leaders have demanded an urgent response from the IG. Furthermore, Congress has requested a briefing on the status of the inquiry by September 25.
The complaint enumerated a number of abuses at the immigrant detention center. They include:
- Refusal to test detainees for COVID-19;
- Shredding of medical requests submitted by detained immigrants;
- Fabrication of medical records;
- Allowing employees to work while symptomatic and awaiting COVID-19 test results;
- Withholding info from detainees and employees about who has tested positive for COVID-19;
- Underreporting COVID-19 cases;
- Allowing the transfer of detained immigrants, including those who tested positive for the virus.
Detainees also reported unsanitary conditions in the facility. In particular, they noted mold and insects in their food, with one claiming that their meals were “often spoiled.”
Additionally, the report details a culture of retribution against those detainees who defied their circumstance. Both Nurse Wooten and immigrants who interviewed with Project South have said that some detainees attempted hunger strikes to demand safer conditions. In response, Wooten says that staff would punish them by turning off their water.
“Ms. Wooten confirmed that it was common practice for ICDC to shut off the water for those on hunger strike,” the complaint reads. “Ms. Wooten stated that because of this policy, one detained immigrant was ‘drinking out of the toilet. It’s what he had left.’”
“Experimenting with Our Bodies”
Detainees also expressed to Project South a concerning number of hysterectomies occurring at the center. In her complaint, Wooten says she and other nurses questioned the number of women undergoing the procedure, in which a doctor removes the patient’s uterus. The whistleblower expressed doubt that those who received the procedure fully understood or consented.
Moreover, a detained woman who spoke with Project South claimed that she could name five women at the facility who had undergone a hysterectomy. The woman said that, between October and December 2019, she spoke with five women who “reacted confused when explaining why they had one done.”
“When I met all these women who had had surgeries, I thought this was like an experimental concentration camp,” the detainee told Project South. “It was like they’re experimenting with our bodies.”
Meanwhile, Wooten referred to one particular gynecologist in her complaint, whom she dubbed “the uterus collector.”
“Everybody he sees,” Wooten said of the doctor, “he’s taking all their uteruses out or he’s taken their tubes out.”
Following the complaint, Snopes, the online fact-checking resource, reached out to ICE for comment. Agency spokeswoman Georgia Lindsey Williams replied with the following statement:
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) does not comment on matters presented to the Office of the Inspector General, which provides independent oversight and accountability within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. 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.