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The news about forced hysterectomies in ICE detention facilities is troubling. Discover what we know so far and what we still need to learn.

Is the news about ICE giving hysterectomies to detainees true?

On Monday news broke that a whistleblower filed a complaint with the Dept. of Homeland Security alleging that a gynecologist was performing hysterectomies at Irwin County Detention Center in Georgia. A letter drafted by watchdog groups and human rights legal firms detailed accounts from staff & detainees about medical neglect and human rights abuses taking place at an ICE detention facility in Georgia. 

While reports of human rights abuses at ICE detention facilities aren’t new, there was an allegation made that was chilling. It also brought up a dark side of America’s past. Here’s what we know so far about allegations from LPN Dawn Wooten about hysterectomies at an ICE detention facility. 

COVID concerns

The hysterectomies at ICE weren’t the only complaint Dawn Wooten, a nurse at the Irwin County Detention Center filed. In an interview with The Intercept, she alleged that the detention center, owned by a private prison group LaSalle Corrections, was under testing detainees for COVID-19, and knowingly put detainees and staff at risk for contracting the virus. 

On September 8, Wooten drafted a letter to the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General. She received assistance from a legal watchdog group called the Government Accountability Project drafting her letter. Wooten referred to the abuses in the ICE detention facility as “a silent pandemic” that officials downplayed. 

Retaliation

Wooten reported on negligent conditions at Irwin County Detention Facility since March. She reported that staff weren’t given adequate PPE, detainees were given none in March, and that other staff were told to falsify testing, including reporting detainee’s temperatures as being lower than they were. In July, Wooten was demoted. 

Wooten’s testimony is bolstered by other whistleblowers in LaSalle correctional facilities according to The Intercept. However, many are afraid to come forward because they fear retaliation. Wooten details that when she started complaining to management about conditions in July, she was written up. 

The Project South letter

On September 14, a letter from Project South, the Government Accountability Project, and other local watchdog groups was sent via email to DHS. Mainly, the letter documents Wooten’s complaints, plus interviews with detainees about filthy, overcrowded conditions in the ICE detention facility. 

These conditions included cockroaches in the food, filthy showers, and requests for sick care & medication being ignored by staff. 

In addition to the negligence amid COVID, Wooten, Project South, et. al added an alarming allegation. “In addition, this complaint raises red flags regarding the rate at which hysterectomies are performed on immigrant women under ICE custody at ICDC,” the letter read. 

Hysterectomy allegations

Project South conducted an interview with a detainee in 2019, who alleged that a high volume of women were sent to an outside gynecologist who “they didn’t trust.” In an interview with Project South conducted in the summer of 2020, the detainee said “she talked to five different women detained at ICDC between October and December 2019 who had a hysterectomy done.” 

From the interview, it didn’t appear that the women having these hysterectomies had the procedure explained to them at all. “When she talked to them about the surgery, the women “reacted confused when explaining why they had one done,” the detainee Project South interviewed said. 

According to the letter, the detainee added: “When I met all these women who had had surgeries, I thought this was like an experimental concentration camp. It was like they’re experimenting with our bodies.”

“The uterus collector”

The letter also elaborates on an interview with a detainee that she didn’t understand the procedure. Staff initially told her she’d be treated for an ovarian cyst. Then they said she’s being treated for “heavy bleeding,” which the detainee said she never experienced. When questioning the treatment, the detainee was told to “shut up” by staff, the letter claims. 

The doctor who performed the hysterectomies was described by Wooten in the letter as being “the uterus collector,” elaborating that the nurse staff alleged it was his specialty. While Wooten didn’t name the doctor in the letter, Wooten & interviewed detainees went into detail about the procedures they faced. 

The official responses

A spokesperson for the Southern Poverty Law Center confirmed to Prism that the OB-GYN serving the ICE detention facility was Mahendra Amin, based in Douglas, Georgia. When The Intercept reached him for comment, he denied the allegations, only claiming that he performed one or two hysterectomies. When pressed, he didn’t say why before hanging up the phone. 

The CEO of the Irwin County Hospital, Paige Wynn, texted Jezebel that consent “obtained from both ICE and the patient before performing any surgical procedure,” but didn’t provide further comment citing privacy concerns. 

ICE told the press that they are not commenting on any complaints presented to the Office of the Inspector General. However, when asked by Prism, they followed up with a boilerplate statement saying they take all allegations seriously and referred to the Office of Inspector General for investigation. They added “anonymous, unproven allegations, made without any fact-checkable specifics, should be treated with the appropriate skepticism they deserve.” 

A history of forced sterilization

At this time, we don’t know if the hysterectomies being performed are an isolated incident confined to Irwin’s ICE detention facility or if they’re being performed elsewhere. They also haven’t been officially verified; however, this is now an ongoing investigation and more details should emerge soon. 

However, the U.S. has a long, troubled history of sterilizing racial and ethnic minorities against their will. Examples include “Father of Gynecology” J. Marion Sims’ experiments on enslaved women, the Tuskegee experiments, and American eugenics programs that sterilized “undesirables,” including poor, disabled, Mexican American, and Native American women until the 1970s. 

Was Wooten complicit? 

Days after the letter was released, several detainees came forward to allege that Dawn Wooten was complicit in their abuse. In a Project South phone interview reported by Prism, one detainee said Wooten made “jokes at their expense,” another detainee said she was complicit for a while without saying anything. 

A representative from the Government Accountability Project, Dana Gold, responded to Prism on Wooten’s behalf: 

“Dawn witnessed systemic abuses at ICDC. When she raised concerns about the operating procedures to her superiors, they demoted her. She came forward to expose and validate grave mistreatment of detained immigrants at Irwin because she believes in the need for systematic change and accountability from the top down.” 

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