‘Like an Experimental Concentration Camp’: Women at Detention Center Report High Number of Hysterectomies
This article features Government Accountability Project and our client Dawn Wooten and was originally published here.
A concerning number of hysterectomies have been performed on migrant women held at a Georgia detention center — some of whom didn’t know why they had the procedure — according to a former nurse at the facility who is part of a new whistleblower complaint alleging “jarring medical neglect.”
“Everybody [the doctor] sees has a hysterectomy — just about everybody,” Dawn Wooten, who worked at Irwin County Detention Center until July, said in the complaint, filed Monday by the Government Accountability Project and advocacy groups on behalf of Wooten and some detained migrants.
Wooten was referring to an unnamed, off-site gynecologist in the complaint.
“He’s even taken out the wrong ovary on a young lady,” she said in the complaint.
“We’ve questioned among ourselves like goodness he’s taking everybody’s stuff out,” Wooten said of the gynecologist. “That’s his specialty, he’s the uterus collector. I know that’s ugly.”
“Is he collecting these things or something?” she continued. “Everybody he sees, he’s taking all their uteruses out or he’s taken their tubes out. What in the world.”
According to the complaint, Wooten “expressed concern regarding the high numbers of detained immigrant women at ICDC receiving hysterectomies.”
The complaint states that, according to Wooten, some of the detainees had issues requiring a hysterectomy but “everybody’s uterus cannot be that bad.”
Migrants at the facility, run by the company LaSalle Corrections, are also neither properly protected from exposure to the coronavirus disease COVID-19 nor properly treated for the illness, according to the complaint filed with the internal watchdog of the Department of Homeland Security, which runs Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The complaint further alleges a years-long record of “human rights abuses including lack of medical and mental health care, due process violations [and] unsanitary living conditions” at the Irwin County facility, according to previous detainee accounts. The center has a capacity of about 1,200.
“This place is not equipped for humans,” one migrant said, according to the complaint.
Those failures have taken on greater urgency amid a pandemic, according to the complaint. Some 42 detainees at facility had reportedly tested positive for COVID-19 as of Sunday.
The documents describe a lack of coronavirus testing at the facility as well as destruction of records, failure to follow health guidelines to curb the virus and symptomatic employees who continued to work while information about infections was hidden from staff and detainees.
The advocacy groups argue that “these life-threatening concerns require immediate attention and correction before more employees and detained immigrants at ICDC become sick with COVID-19 or other illnesses due to lack of medical care and proper COVID-19 policies.”
Allegations by Wooten, the former nurse, of a high number of hysterectomies are supported by detained immigrants and other nurses, according to the complaint.
One detainee said she spoke to five other detained women at the facility between October and December of 2019, each of whom had a hysterectomy done.
“When I met all these women who had had surgeries, I thought this was like an experimental concentration camp,” the detainee told Project South, one of the advocacy groups who filed the complaint. “It was like they’re experimenting with our bodies.”
Some of them didn’t even know why they were having the surgery, according to the complaint.
Wooten said that several of the women told her that “they’ve been to see the doctor and they’ve had hysterectomies and they don’t know why they went or why they’re going.”
ICE spokesperson Lindsay Williams tells PEOPLE in a statement that the agency does not comment on matters presented to the Office of the Inspector General.
“ICE takes all allegations seriously and defers to the OIG regarding any potential investigation and/or results,” Williams said. “That said, in general, anonymous, unproven allegations, made without any fact-checkable specifics, should be treated with the appropriate skepticism they deserve.”
LaSalle Corrections and the DHS Office of the Inspector General did not immediately respond to a request for comment from PEOPLE.
In addition to Project South, the complaint was filed by advocacy groups Georgia Detention Watch, Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights and the South Georgia Immigrant Support Network.
The Trump administration has made restricting immigration, both legal and illegal, a cornerstone of government policy — even as advocates and numerous detainees say the conditions migrants have been held in is often unsafe and inhumane.
The government previously came under fire for separating migrant children from their parents.
President Donald Trump also has a history of demeaning comments about immigrants, particularly from Central and South American countries.