(TMU) – A nurse at an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention center has filed a shocking whistleblower complaint through several legal advocacy groups that accuses the ICE facility of “jarring medical neglect” toward detainees, including an ongoing practice of performing mass hysterectomies performed on female prisoners.
The complaint, filed by a number of detained immigrants and the nurse, Dawn Wooten, alleges that there are dreadful conditions of severe neglect at the Irwin County Detention Center (ICDC) in Ocilla, Georgia, which is operated by private prison company LaSalle South Corrections. The issues include a failure to test for infectious diseases, shredding of medical requests by incarcerated immigrants, fabricating medical records, as well as other hazardous and reckless actions by ICDC management, all while punishing immigrants with solitary confinement when they speak out against this treatment.
The complaint was filed with the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) by advocacy groups Project South, the South Georgia Immigrant Support Network, Georgia Detention Watch, and Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights.
Multiple women interviewed by Project South say that women incarcerated at the private facility were subject to a strikingly high rate of hysterectomies, an operation in which the entire uterus or parts of it are surgically removed. A large number of the immigrant women subject to the procedure were also confused when asked to explain why the surgery was necessary.
“Recently, a detained immigrant told Project South that she talked to five different women detained at ICDC between October and December 2019 who had a hysterectomy done,” the complaint said. “When she talked to them about the surgery, the women ‘reacted confused when explaining why they had one done.’ The woman told Project South that it was as though the women were ‘trying to tell themselves it’s going to be OK.’”
One detainee even likened her treatment to that of an experimental lab rat in a concentration camp.
“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 detainee said.
The woman said that one particular gynecologist outside of the facility was responsible for the hysterectomies.
One woman wasn’t properly given anesthetics during her hysterectomy and overheard the doctor claim that he had removed the wrong ovary. She eventually returned to the doctor to have her other ovary removed as well, Wooten said.
“We’ve questioned among ourselves, like, goodness, he’s taking everybody’s stuff out,” said Wooten, a former full-time employee at ICDC until July. “That’s his specialty, he’s the uterus collector. I know that’s ugly.”
“Is he collecting these things or something … Everybody he sees, he’s taking all their uteruses out or he’s taken their tubes out,” she added. “Everybody’s uterus cannot be that bad … What in the world.”
Wooten also noted that the detained women didn’t understand the medical purpose of the forced procedure, and some of the nurses who didn’t speak Spanish managed to force consent from the detainees “by simply googling Spanish.”
Another woman was scheduled for the hysterectomy but after questioning why the surgery was necessary, she was given several explanations about the procedure that were completely different.
“She was originally told by the doctor that she had an ovarian cyst and was going to have a small twenty-minute procedure done drilling three small holes in her stomach to drain the cyst,” the complaint alleged.
“The officer who was transporting her to the hospital told her that she was receiving a hysterectomy to have her womb removed,” the complaint continued. “When the hospital refused to operate on her because her [CV-19] test came back positive for antibodies, she was transferred back to ICDC where the ICDC nurse said that the procedure she was going to have done entailed dilating her vagina and scraping tissue off.“
One immigrant complained that incarcerees are generally afraid that their stay at ICDC is tantamount to a death sentence.
“I don’t want to die here,” the immigrant said. “Please release me, let me be with my family … a lot of people are afraid.”
Another woman said that a nurse informed her that the procedure was meant to prevent her from continued heavy menstrual bleeding. When the woman explained that she had never experienced such problems, the nurse snapped and “responded by getting angry and agitated and began yelling at her.”
The incarcerated women also claim that they were forced to endure extremely unsanitary conditions in the medical and quarantine unit of the ICDC. One woman claims that she was forced to use her shampoo to clean her cell because staffers deprived her of cleaning solutions, while another woman had to use her socks to wipe down her cell.
“This place is not equipped for humans,” one of the immigrants said. “This is the dirtiest facility I have ever been in: everything is dirty; one shower for more than 50 people; one bathroom for all of us; I don’t even know how to give more details because it is all nasty, really nasty; only God is taking care of us here.”
The filthy conditions have driven many of the incarcerees to despair and led to several suicide attempts, one woman said.
“If it wasn’t for my faith in God, I think I would have gone insane and just break down and probably gone as far as hurting myself,” she explained. “There are a lot of people here who end up in medical trying to kill themselves because of how crazy it is.”
A LaSalle spokesperson told The Intercept that the private prison is “firmly committed to the health and welfare of those in our care.”
“We are deeply committed to delivering high-quality, culturally responsive services in safe and humane environments,” the spokesperson added.
ICE has also responded to coverage of the complaint with a statement claiming that the testimonies of Wooten and the female detainees were “anonymous, unproven allegations, made without any fact-checkable specifics.”
Tragically, the United States has an ugly track record of forcing people, especially from communities of color, into unwanted sterilization, which falls under the category of eugenics and an egregious human rights abuse under international standards. For over 70 years, California sterilized about 20,000 people in state institutions. In the South, Black women were sterilized without their knowledge during C-sections when they were treated as “practice” by incoming medical students. In other cases, sterilization was a condition of keeping welfare benefits.
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