A detainee stated, "I thought this was like an experimental concentration camp. It was like they're experimenting with our bodies."
Trigger Warning: Descriptions of medical procedures, body dysmorphia
In a complaint filed to the Department of Homeland Security inspector general Monday, whistleblower Dawn Wooten, who formerly worked at an Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility in Georgia, shared shocking details of medical neglect and mass hysterectomies. Wooten, a licensed practical nurse, is currently employed by the center who's represented by the Government Accountability Project and Project South, a social justice organization. The complaint has also been signed by numerous immigrant advocacy organizations including Georgia Detention Watch, Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights, and South Georgia Immigrant Support Network. Democratic lawmakers have since called for an investigation into the allegations, CNN reports.
Of course it’s a Black woman. Black women continue to show up for the world, even though the world doesn’t show up for us. Even when the risk is high and our wellbeing is on the line. #DawnWooten is a heroine and we need to protect her at all costs. https://t.co/vsGc3Yvb5K— Amanda Bartley (@bartleyamandaj) September 16, 2020
In her complaint, Wooten shared the story of one detainee in particular. She explained, "Everybody he [the doctor] 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. 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." The whistleblower did not reveal the gynecologist's identity nor when the incident took place. She also did not clarify how many women exactly underwent similar procedures.
In addition to cases of non-consensual hysterectomies and medical neglect, the complaint includes a collection of concerns about the facility's handling of the ongoing public health crisis. Democratic Representative Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, affirmed in a statement, "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. He also noted that allegations of hysterectomies being performed on women without their consent was "incredibly disturbing." His committee is currently investigating conditions at ICE contractor facilities.
Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House and a Democrat from California, has called on the Department of Homeland Security to investigate Wooten's allegations as well. Meanwhile, ICE has, as expected, implied that Wooten's allegations were "unproven." The agency said in response to the whistleblower's complaint, "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." However, Wooten is not alone.
“I’m a single mother of 5. (Irwin County Detention Center) was my means of employment. But Because I began to ask questions about why we were doing no #COVID19 testing, I was demoted.” Nurse Dawn Wooten, who bravely shared her experience at ICDC. #ShutDownIrwin #AbolishICE pic.twitter.com/OZxPoqrSU1— Project South (@ProjectSouth) September 15, 2020
Immigrants held at ICE facilities all across the United States have filed similar complaints, court documents, lawyers, and other whistleblowers have revealed. Leeann Culbreath, co-founder and co-chair of South Georgia Immigrant Support Network, a humanitarian organization, shared her learnings from speaking with a handful of detained women over the past few years. "With alarming frequency we hear about women who've received gynecological procedures," she said. "Sometimes they were not given an opportunity to give consent for that. [Wooten's complaint] affirmed my worst fears about what might be happening here." A detained immigrant speaking with Project South 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."
I've created a fundraiser to ensure the safety of #DawnWooten, the Black woman who uncovered hysterectomies done by ICE.— Jordan Ifueko ☀️BUY RAYBEARER NOW☀️ (@jifueko) September 16, 2020
$2000 gets a private security system for her home.
$13000 gets her 6 months of private security escorts.
Every cent will go to her: https://t.co/6I2UIOXbMM