January 29, 2024 

DHS Audit Finds Alarming Rates of Unnecessary Major Surgeries in ICE Custody

Whistleblower Dawn Wooten’s Disclosures and Noncitizen Women Survivors’ Testimonials Prompt Investigation Finding Widespread Fraud, Waste and Abuse 

WASHINGTON We applaud the critical findings of the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General (DHS OIG) audit released last week, which was instigated by the whistleblower disclosures of our client Dawn Wooten. Dawn is a nurse who raised concerns that high rates of women detainees at Irwin County Detention Center (ICDC) in Georgia were undergoing invasive gynecological procedures without informed consent, as well as the medical mistreatment of dozens of formerly detained women at ICDC. The audit, which omitted from its review the surgeries performed at ICDC because of separate investigations spurred by Ms. Wooten’s whistleblower complaint, found that the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Health Service Corps (IHSC) approved alarming rates of major surgeries that were not medically necessary.  

The DHS OIG audit found a substantial number of unnecessary major surgeries at ICE facilities from FY 2019-2021. Specifically, out of 553 surgeries, between 137 and 214 were not approved according to required ICE policies, indicating a possible pattern of medical abuse and fraud. These procedural lapses included personnel unqualified to assess medical necessity approving patients’ surgeries and insufficient documentation to support the necessity of the surgeries. This audit follows a bipartisan U.S. Senate investigation into medical mistreatment of women in ICE detention that found in 2022 that female detainees were “subjected to excessive, invasive, and often unnecessary gynecological procedures.”  

Even as her disclosure led to the exposure of these horrible abuses, Dawn continues to fight for justice. 

Dana Gold, Senior Counsel and one of Ms. Wooten’s lead attorneys said: 

“This audit shows a systemic failure by DHS to protect the basic human rights of people held in ICE custody. The startling number of unauthorized and medically unnecessary major surgeries—more than a third—reflects oversight failures so significant that they effectively allowed ICE contracted doctors to profit by inappropriately profiting from vulnerable noncitizens held captive in government custody. That this practice was occurring beyond ICDC, and would have continued but for nurse Dawn Wooten’s whistleblowing that exposed the medical mistreatment of women in ICE detention and prompted this DHS audit, speaks to the critical role whistleblowers play in preventing the harm from corrupt contractors and weak oversight that has come to define noncitizen detention.” 


Contact: Andrew Harman, Communications Director 

Email: [email protected] 

Phone: 202-449-6042 


Government Accountability Project 

Government Accountability Project is the nation’s leading whistleblower protection organization. Through litigating whistleblower cases, publicizing concerns and developing legal reforms, Government Accountability Project’s mission is to protect the public interest by promoting government and corporate accountability. Founded in 1977, Government Accountability Project is a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C.