Top US House Democrats are investigating a whistleblower’s allegations that migrant women underwent gynecological procedures in a Georgia detention center without their consent or full understanding of the treatment being given.
Dawn Wooten, a nurse who worked at the Irwin County Detention Center, said women in immigration and customs “were sent to an outside medical provider to undergo gynecological procedures, including but not limited to hysterectomies, without a consent form “, So the legislature wrote in a letter Monday to those responsible for the facility.
In one complaint Whistleblower Wooten told federal officials that a “high number” of hysterectomies were performed on women at the Georgia facility. A hysterectomy removes the uterus and sometimes the ovaries, which means a person cannot menstruate or become pregnant.
“Everyone’s uterus can’t be that bad,” said Wooten in her complaint, calling the doctor who performed the gynecological interventions “the uterus collector.”
Home Oversight, Reform and Homeland Security Committees are requesting documents from Tony Pham, a senior ICE official. Phil Bickham, the director of the detention center; and Rodney Cooper, the executive director of LaSalle Corrections, A company that provides law enforcement personnel to immigrant detention facilities in Georgia, Texas, and Louisiana.
Wooten, the nurse, “has also alleged that the safety of staff and detainees has been repeatedly disregarded in violation of federal agency recommended protocols to combat the spread of the coronavirus, “the legislature wrote. “These claims, when true, are a conscience shock.”
The letter was signed by Homeland Security Chairperson Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) And Oversight and Reform Chairperson Carolyn Maloney (DN.Y.) and Subcommittee on Border Security, Relief and Operations Kathleen Rice (DN.Y.). ) and Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Chairman Jamie Raskin (D-Md.).
Legislators want documents on gynecological or obstetrical persons in prison or outside the hospital as well as all communications between employees and medical service providers to be received as early as 2015. The letter also requested documentation on how the facility responded to coronavirus outbreaks and what measures were being taken to prevent the spread.
Democrats requested these documents by October 2nd.
Pham, ICE Senior Official serving as the director, said in a statement that the allegations “raise some very serious concerns that deserve prompt and thorough investigation.”
“ICE welcomes the efforts of both the Inspector General and the Department of Homeland Security’s parallel review,” he said, referring to an ongoing investigation by the DHS Inspector General’s office.
“As a former prosecutor, anyone who violates our policies and procedures should be held accountable. If these claims are true, I undertake to make the necessary corrections to ensure that we continue to prioritize the health, welfare, and safety of ICE prisoners. “
ICE didn’t answer questions about the congressional investigation.
This isn’t the first time the Irwin Georgia facility has raised concerns on the hill.
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In 2019, House Oversight and Reform Committee staff visited several ICE facilities in Georgia, including the Irwin facility. Employee wrote to the Inspector General of DHS, Joseph Cuffari, about their concerns that detainees were physically and verbally abused by the facility’s officers.
“The committee’s visit revealed significant concerns about these facilities that would benefit from a thorough review by your office,” they write.
Project South legal and advocacy director Azadeh Shahshahani said the Irwin Detention Center has a long history of violating human rights and lawmakers should familiarize themselves with the history of the center during their investigation. A 2017 report of Project South Legal, an Atlanta-based social justice organization, found dozens of reports of abuse at the Irwin facility.
“This facility needs to be closed,” she said. “We don’t talk about the actions of an individual, we talk about the whole system.”
Project South and the Government Accountability Project, a nonprofit that protects and advocates whistleblowers, represent Wooten.
“We hope lawmakers keep up the pressure,” said Shahshahani. “We need a Congress investigation.”
Correction: Azadeh Shahshahani is the Legal Director of Project South. In an earlier version of this story, the title and name of the organization she works for were incorrectly given.
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