FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
May 20, 2021
Government Accountability Project Client Dawn Wooten’s Whistleblower Disclosures Catalyze DHS to Stop Detaining Immigrants at Irwin County Detention Center
Investigation, Remedy Still Sought for Wrongful Retaliation
WASHINGTON—Today, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Mayorkas directed Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to sever its contracts with Irwin County Detention Center (ICDC) to stop detaining immigrants at that facility, stating in a memo to ICE Director Tae Johnson, “…we will not tolerate the mistreatment of individuals in civil immigration detention or substandard conditions of detention.”
Government Accountability Project represents Ms. Dawn Wooten, the nurse at ICDC who suffered retaliation after raising concerns internally about troubling medical practices and conditions she witnessed at ICDC. Her disclosures to the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General, filed by Government Accountability Project and Project South, catalyzed the investigation that prompted today’s decision to end immigrant detention at Irwin.
Ms. Wooten’s disclosures included reports of shredding medical requests from detainees, failing to protect against the spread of COVID-19, and several detained immigrant women undergoing forced sterilizations with dubious consent. Ms. Wooten’s disclosures went viral in September 2020 after reporting by The Intercept and dozens of other media outlets. Ms. Wooten’s disclosures, which prompted several ongoing agency investigations and calls from Congress to stop the horrific abuses, catalyzed more than 57 women to come forward with their stories of medical misconduct at the hands of ICE, its contractor LaSalle Corrections that runs the facility, and the contracted doctor who performed unnecessary and nonconsensual invasive procedures, ultimately filing a class action lawsuit.
Dana Gold, Government Accountability Project Senior Counsel and lawyer for Ms. Wooten, stated:
“Ms. Wooten’s brave decision to come forward about the abhorrent conditions at Irwin launched the OIG investigations that prompted Secretary Mayorkas to terminate ICE’s contract with LaSalle and end the misconduct that endangered immigrant detainees at ICDC. Her whistleblowing opened the door for women survivors to seek justice for the medical mistreatment they suffered and has ensured that immigrants will not suffer from any mistreatment in the future. Unfortunately, Ms. Wooten, a single mother of five children, continues to pay the price for her truth-telling, having suffered wrongful retaliation. To date, she has not received a legal remedy. We hope that the DHS OIG will quickly conclude its investigations into both Ms. Wooten’s disclosures and her whistleblower retaliation complaint. She deserves nothing less than being made whole for the sacrifice she made by coming forward and catalyzing an end to the abuse at Irwin.”
Ms. Dawn Wooten commented:
“When I saw the problems at Irwin, I simply could not stay silent. Today’s decision to stop immigrants from being detained at Irwin shows that speaking truth can literally save lives. Blowing the whistle was the right thing to do, but it has come at the cost of my job and ability to find other employment. I am hopeful that the DHS OIG will issue a favorable decision soon into my whistleblower retaliation complaint not just for me, but to send a message to other whistleblowers that speaking up is essential and is a legal right that will be protected.”
Contact: Andrew Harman, Government Accountability Project Communications Director
Phone: (202) 457-0034 x156
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.