May 4, 2021

Government Accountability Project’s Statement on ICE Detention Facility at Center of Whistleblower Disclosures No Longer Detaining Women

WASHINGTON—Recent reporting from Insider revealed that Irwin County Detention Center (ICDC) – the immigration facility at the center of our client Dawn Wooten’s whistleblower disclosures – is no longer detaining any women. This information demonstrates the impact a whistleblower can make when they step forward to disclose wrongdoing. However, more must be done for accountability to truly take place.

In September 2020, Ms. Wooten, a nurse at ICDC, blew the whistle on wrongdoing that included ignoring COVID-19 prevention protocols, failing to provide medical care to detainees, and performing invasive gynecological procedures on detained immigrant women with dubious consent. Her disclosures led to national media coverage, congressional calls for investigations and multiple Hill briefings, organizing by the immigration justice community, multiple agency investigations, and a class action lawsuit of immigrant women seeking justice.

Despite the removal of these women from ICDC, we know that many issues at the center that Ms. Wooten blew the whistle on remain unresolved. We also know from our work with other whistleblowers, that the problems within the U.S. immigration system go far beyond the walls of one facility. For example, our clients Drs. Scott Allen and Josiah Rich, who serve as medical experts in the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, urged Congress in March 2020 to take immediate action to address the substantial danger to both immigrant and public health and safety posed by COVID-19. Their warnings became reality when whistleblowers came forward at the Richwood Correctional Center in Louisiana and reported to Congress practices that failed to comply with CDC guidelines and promoted the spread of the coronavirus. The ongoing harm to detainees, workers, and local communities caused by the failure to address the spread of COVID in ICE detention was recently documented by the New York Times in a video that featured Dr. Allen’s warnings to the Senate Judiciary Committee last summer.

These disclosures tell us that DHS must do more than simply move detained immigrants from one facility to another as a means for accountability. Instead, structural reform must take place to fix the country’s broken immigration detention system, including protecting and supporting whistleblowers within these institutions whose disclosures have been, and will continue to be, essential to exposing abuse and threats to health and safety.

Our Senior Counsel and attorney for Ms. Wooten Dana Gold said:

“But for Ms. Wooten choosing to blow the whistle on the medical misconduct she discovered at ICDC, immigrant women at that facility might still be suffering unnecessary gynecological procedures without full consent. Her whistleblowing not only catalyzed women survivors to come forward to seek justice, but likely prevented harm to others. Ms. Wooten, however, suffered retaliation for her courage, as have too many other whistleblowers whose disclosures have been essential to exposing abuses and mitigating further harm. We will continue to not only seek justice for Ms. Wooten and our other brave whistleblower clients, but also zealously advocate to ensure the problems they disclosed are fully addressed.”

Contact: Andrew Harman, Government Accountability Project Communications Director
Email: [email protected]
Phone: 202.926.3304

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.