A nurse working for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) opened up about the horrors she allegedly witnessed while on the job. In a complaint filed Monday (September 14) with the Homeland Security Department’s internal watchdog, nurse Dawn Wooten and several advocacy groups accused a Georgia immigration detention center of performing “questionable hysterectomies” on unsuspecting detainees, according to The Associated Press (AP). Wooten also said the facility refused to test migrants for COVID-19 and shredded their medical records.
The complaint to the Homeland Security Department’s internal watchdog relies on accounts of Dawn Wooten, who worked full-time as a licensed practical nurse at the Irwin County Detention Center until July, when she was demoted to work as needed.
Wooten, whose claims are so far unsubstantiated, refers to one gynecologist who works outside the facility as “the uterus collector,” according to the complaint. “Everybody he sees has a hysterectomy — just about everybody,” Wooten said. “He’s even taken out the wrong ovary on a young lady.”
I am horrified by reports that immigrant women trapped in ICE detention centers are being subjected to forced and coerced hysterectomies. Immigrants are human beings with autonomy and rights, not bodies to be experimented on, and one’s documentation status should not change that.— Alexis McGill Johnson (@alexismcgill) September 14, 2020
Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi (California-D), Speaker of the House of Representatives, also weighed in on the accusations and called for an immediate investigation into the matter:
If true, the appalling conditions described at an ICE detention facility — including allegations of mass hysterectomies performed on immigrant women — are a staggering abuse of human rights. @DHSOIG must immediately investigate these allegations. https://t.co/Rkr3yLt54r— Nancy Pelosi (@SpeakerPelosi) September 15, 2020
Wooten expressed uncertainly in her complaint over whether or not detained women consented to surgeries. “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,” she says in the complaint.
According to AP:
The facility in Ocilla, [about 160 miles] south of Atlanta, houses men and women detainees for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, as well as inmates for the U.S. Marshals Service and Irwin County.
ICE officials released a statement obtained by AP, stating they take all allegations seriously. “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 in the statement.
Advocacy groups Project South, Georgia Detention Watch, Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights, and South Georgia Immigrant Support Network filed the 27-page complaint, which ”quotes unidentified detainees extensively,” along with Wooten’s accounts, according to AP. Wooten said in the complaint that she believes she was demoted as retaliation for raising questions about how the detention facility addressed COVID-19.
Wooten said the number of detainees infected was much higher than reported because there was no active testing and not all cases were reported, according to the complaint.
Wooten is quoted as saying the sick call nurse sometimes fabricated seeing detainees in person when they hadn’t and that she saw the nurse shred a box of detainee complaints without looking at them. She said nurses ignored detainees reporting COVID-19 symptoms.
If detainees reported a fever, nurses would put them on an over-the-counter cold medication for seven days without testing them for COVID-19, she said.
LaSalle Corrections, owner and operator of Irwin County Detention Center, has so far declined to comment on the complaint, according to AP.