On Monday, a whistleblower who had worked at an ICE facility in Georgia detailed a high rate of hysterectomies and alleged medical neglect in a complaint filed to the Department of Homeland Security inspector general.
Dawn Wooten, a licensed practical nurse employed by the center who’s represented by the Government Accountability Project and Project South, stated in a complaint that while some women may have required a hysterectomy, “everybody’s uterus cannot be that bad.”
The Government Accountability Project provides representation for whistleblowers and Project South is a social justice organization. The complaint is also signed by several immigrant advocacy organizations: Georgia Detention Watch, Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights, and South Georgia Immigrant Support Network.
The complaint also included a series of concerns about the facility’s handling of the COVID-19 and immediately received responses from Democratic lawmakers.
“The allegations put forth in this whistleblower complaint point to an alarming pattern of unsafe conditions and a lack of oversight at privately-run ICE facilities,” Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi said in a statement, adding that allegations of hysterectomies being performed on women without consent are “incredibly disturbing.”
Thompson’s committee is investigating the conditions at ICE facilities. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California, urged the DHS inspector general to investigate Wooten’s allegations.
“Everybody he sees has a hysterectomy—just about everybody. He’s even taken out the wrong ovary on a young lady [detained immigrant woman]. She was supposed to get her left ovary removed because it had a cyst on the left ovary; he took out the right one. She was upset. She had to go back to take out the left and she wound up with a total hysterectomy,” Wooten explains in the complaint.
“She still wanted children—so she has to go back home now and tell her husband that she can’t bear kids… she said she was not all the way out under anesthesia and heard him [doctor] tell the nurse that he took the wrong ovary,” Wooten added.
Wooten describes speaking with detained women who didn’t fully understand why they had a hysterectomy.
“These immigrant women, I don’t think they really, totally, all the way understand this is what’s going to happen depending on who explains it to them,” Wooten said.
The complaint also said the facility didn’t take necessary precautions to avoid the spread of coronavirus, which ultimately motivated Wooten to come forward.
“I began to ask questions about why would the detainees not be tested — symptomatic or non-symptomatic,” Wooten said. “But what broke the back and the last straw was looking in and living it for yourself. Coming to work and being told that even though you’re being tested, you can report when CDC guidelines say stay home and a doctor’s note says stay home.”
According to the complaint, Wooten had “pleaded with ICDC Warden David Paulk in March when the facility had its first Covid-19 case to stop all transfers of individuals in and out the facility, but the Warden did not listen.”
The complaint doesn’t disclose the name of the gynecologist or the number of women allegedly pressured into receiving the procedure, or when it occurred. ICE said it doesn’t comment on matters presented to the inspector general.
“ICE takes all allegations seriously and defers to the (Office of the Inspector General) 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 agency said.