For the immigrant women Wooten said she sought to protect, the repercussions of her actions were almost immediate.
Just days after she came forward, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) said a gynecologist at the center of Wooten’s complaint would no longer see patients from the privately-run Ocilla immigrant detention center. And after the Biden administration severed ties with the 1,296-bed jail, all ICE detainees were moved out by early September 2021.
Following an 18-month bipartisan probe, a report published last month confirmed much of what Wooten had said. Although it didn’t substantiate her allegation of mass hysterectomies, the investigation found a pattern of “excessive, invasive, and often unnecessary” gynecological procedures inside the detention center. The 103-page report also raised questions about detainees’ ability to consent to the procedures and describes gaps in ICE oversight that could have been a factor in the alleged medical abuse.
“In my view, [this] represents a catastrophic failure by the federal government to respect basic human rights,” Sen. Jon Ossoff of Georgia said during a Senate hearing the day the report was published. “Among the serious abuses [the U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations] has investigated during the last two years, subjecting female detainees to nonconsensual and unnecessary gynecological surgeries is one of the most nightmarish and disgraceful.”
“I was deeply moved,” Wooten said of hearing Ossoff’s remarks.
But providing for her family remains a challenge.
Wooten says she has been unable to find a new, full-time nursing position, despite having applied for over 100 jobs. This fall, she started a GoFundMe campaign to help cover her living expenses. In an interview with the Guardian, she disclosed having to rely on food stamps.
“I remember at one job they said, ‘I’m sorry, but we can’t hire you. Because we don’t need that type of chaos inside of our facilities,’” she said. “I miss that sense of stability. Before, I knew I was going to go to work. I knew I was going to work 12 hours. I knew I was going to go home and have the money for the lights, I knew I was going to have the money for the rent.”
With the help of pro-bono representation from the Government Accountability Project, Wooten is suing her former employer for what she considers to be unlawful termination and retaliation. But that process is slow going.
For now, Wooten can only reminisce about the stability and purpose her profession once provided.
“I miss patient care. That was therapy for me, not just for the patients themselves,” she said. “I miss the ability to lift the spirits of somebody else.”