DHS investigates forced sterilization, hysterectomy allegations of illegal immigrants

This article features Government Accountability Project and our client Dawn Wooten and was originally published here.

The Department of Homeland Security’s internal watchdog launched an investigation into a whistleblower complaint alleging that an outside doctor performed “mass hysterectomies” on immigrant women held in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody at a Georgia detention facility.

The Office of the Inspector General, which provides independent oversight and accountability within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, has opened an investigation into the allegations presented in a whistleblower’s complaint from a former nurse at the Irwin County Detention Center in Ocilla, Ga.

Dawn Wooten, a licensed practical nurse, alleged in the 27-page complaint filed by Project South and Government Accountability Project Monday that immigrant women referred to one unnamed doctor outside the facility for additional medical care were receiving a “high rate of hysterectomies.” Though Wooten did not appear to observe the procedures herself, she testified in the complaint that a number of immigrant women told her they underwent surgery without fully understanding why.

ICE said in a statement that only two immigrants held at the Irwin County Detention Center have been referred to an outside gynecologist for hysterectomies since 2018.

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

The doctor was not mentioned by name in the complaint, but his lawyer, Scott Grubman, identified him as Dr. Mahendra Amin and vehemently denied the claims.

“We look forward to all of the facts coming out and are confident that, once they do, Dr. Amin will be cleared of any wrongdoing,” Grubman said in a statement. In 2015, the Justice Department launched an investigation into Amin and another doctor for allegedly making false claims to Medicaid and Medicare; they both paid $525,000 in a civil settlement.

DHS Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli told the National Review in an interview on Wednesday that he has asked the Office of Inspector General to expedite the ongoing review into the allegations. He also said he will send three DHS staff members – an audit team made up of a Coast Guard doctor, a medical nurse from the deputy secretary’s office, and a lawyer from the general counsel’s office – to conduct a parallel investigation into the medical records at the facility.

“Particularly on the medical side, if any of the allegations were true, we’d be very concerned to correct them as quickly as possible,” Cuccinelli said. “I want to be clear that we don’t assume that a complaint is either accurate or inaccurate right out of the box, so we immediately started checking based on the allegations.”

The investigations come amid new calls to #AbolishICE and as congressional Democrats make comparisons between present-day ICE and the past eugenic-sterilization laws in the U.S., as well as medical atrocities committed at concentration camps in Nazi Germany.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer – the highest-ranking Democrats in Congress – both called on the DHS Inspector General to immediately launch an investigation into the claims made in the whistleblower report.

“The horrific conditions described at ICE facilities in the latest DHS whistleblower complaint hearken back to similar atrocities that the entire world committed to never let happen again,” Schumer said at a press conference. “As any student of history knows, brutal dictators, nationalists have used forced hysterectomies to oppress, punish, and erase marginal populations for centuries. This has no place, no place in any society – much less at the hands of the United States government.”

In a letter addressed to DHS Inspector General Joseph V. Cuffari on Tuesday, Reps. Pramila Jayapal, Judy Chu, Jerrold Nadler and Zoe Lofgren led 173 members of Congress in demanding the agency provide an update on the status of the investigation by Sept. 25.

Citing the initial complaint, the letter reiterated that one unnamed detained immigrant alleged she knew five women who had hysterectomies within a three-month period between October and December 2019 and likened the facility to an “experimental concentration camp.” Wooten was also quoted as having said that hysterectomies were that doctor’s “specialty, he’s the uterus collector” and raised questions about proper informed consent for Spanish-speaking detained women.

“These reports hearken back to a dark time in U.S. history in which 32 states passed eugenic-sterilization laws, resulting in the sterilization of between 60 and 70 thousand people in the early 1900s,” the letter said, adding that nearly 150 incarcerated women in California prisons were sterilized between 2006 and 2010 and, in Georgia, 3,284 people had been sterilized by the end of 1963.

“This shameful history of sterilization in the United States, in particular sterilization of people of color and incarcerated people, must never be repeated,” the letter continued. “Yet, the similarities to the accounts of immigrant women and nurses in the Irwin County Detention Center today are eerily similar.”