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Reports Of Hysterectomies Carried Out On ICE Detainees Prompt Call For Action

Jeff Amy
AP Photo
Dawn Wooten (left), a former nurse at Irwin County Detention Center in Ocilla, Georgia, speaks Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020, during a news conference in Atlanta protesting conditions at the immigration jail.

U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal wants answers after hearing a report of forced sterilizations carried out on migrant detainees at an ICE detention facility.

Dawn Wooten, a former nurse at the Irwin County Detention Center in Ocilla, Georgia, said in a complaint released Monday that incarcerated women received hysterectomies and that some didn’t understand why they were performed on them. Wooten is working with the social justice advocacy group Project South.

Blumenthal and more than 100 of his congressional colleagues want the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General to examine Wooten’s whistleblower complaint.

“This kind of focus on a minority community with unnecessary alleged hysterectomies echoes the worst chapters in our medical history like forced sterilization -- or the Tuskegee Institute experiments -- and that’s why there needs to be an investigation of these claims,” Blumenthal said.

If the allegations are true, Blumenthal said, all contracts with the private company that runs the Irwin County Detention Center -- LaSalle Corrections -- should be terminated.

“In the meantime, ICE should immediately institute enhanced oversight of the operations of ICDC and all other facilities operated by LaSalle,” Blumenthal said.

Connecticut Public Radio received a statement, issued by an ICE public affairs officer, featuring LaSalle Corrections’ response to the whistleblower complaint.

“LaSalle Corrections has a strict zero tolerance policy for any kind of inappropriate behavior in our facilities and takes all allegations of such mistreatment seriously,” the statement reads. “Our company strongly refutes these allegations and any implications of misconduct at the ICDC.”

The statement refers to Wooten’s complaint as “false allegations” that overshadow work done by staff amid a pandemic.

In Wooten’s complaint, the correctional facility is also cited for not testing detainees for COVID-19 and allowing staff to continue working while awaiting test results despite being symptomatic. The testimony also includes a statement from a detained immigrant saying she’d heard of five hysterectomies carried out between October and December of last year.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement says that only two women at the Georgia detention center have been referred to gynecological and obstetrical specialists for hysterectomies.

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

But Rivera also said that medical personnel are responsible for medical care decisions -- not the agency.

“When I met all these women who had had surgeries,” read one woman’s testimony to Project South, “I thought this was like an experimental concentration camp. It was like they’re experimenting with our bodies.”

The allegations are intensifying calls from those who advocate on behalf of the immigrant community for the abolition of ICE. Two city council members in Hartford, Wildaliz Bermudez and Josh Michtom of the Working Families Party, released a joint statement blaming federal law enforcement if the report of forced hysterectomies is true.

“We need to call for the abolition of this cruel and violent department,” Bermudez and Michtom said in the statement. “Trump and his administration cannot be trusted to respect the human rights of the immigrant community, and now is the time for Democratic members of Congress to take the bold stands that this atrocity demands. We must abolish ICE.”

It’s not clear whether the inspector general’s office will launch a formal investigation. Connecticut Public Radio reached out to the office for clarity and didn’t hear back. 

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