November 16, 2022 

Bipartisan Senate Hearing Validates Whistleblower Nurse Dawn Wooten’s Disclosures that Numerous Immigrant Women Underwent Nonconsensual, Unnecessary Gynecological Procedures 

ICE Health Director Admits Would Not Have Known But For The Whistleblower Complaint 

WASHINGTON — On November 15, 2022, the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (PSI) of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs conducted a hearing on Medical Mistreatment of Women in ICE Detention. The protected whistleblower disclosures of Government Accountability Project client, nurse Dawn Wooten, to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Congress regarding health and safety failures at the Irwin County Detention Center (“ICDC”) in Georgia prompted the Committee’s 18-month investigation that culminated in today’s hearing and its accompanying report 

In September 2020, Ms. Wooten blew the whistle on failures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and that women in ICDC were being subjected to horrific nonconsensual and invasive gynecological procedures. Her truth-telling opened the door for immigrant women survivors of medical mistreatment to share their accounts of abuse, further catalyzing multiple agency and congressional investigations and ultimately leading DHS to end its immigration contract at ICDC. Ms. Wooten’s decision to blow the whistle, however, was also met with severe retaliation: she was forced out of her position, received security threats, has suffered explicit blacklisting from nursing jobs, and she and her children have required government assistance to survive.  

Information shared in yesterday’s hearing validated the reports of Ms. Wooten from 2020, including that disturbingly, ICE contracted medical provider for ICDC, Dr. Mahendra Amin, was responsible for 90% of four types of invasive gynecological procedures performed on the detained ICE population nationwide though ICDC held only 4% of the entire female population in ICE custody. Furthermore, the Assistant Director of the ICE Health Service Corps (“IHSC”), Stewart D. Smith, DHSc, indicated that from at least 2017-2020, the IHSC had virtually no oversight systems in place to vet contracted off-site medical providers or review the medical care they provided to people in ICE custody. Indeed, Smith testified that IHSC was not aware of concerns with off-site medical providers until DHS received Ms. Wooten’s whistleblower disclosures.   

Government Accountability Project Senior Counsel, Dana Gold, said: 

“The bipartisan Senate investigation overwhelmingly validated Dawn Wooten’s whistleblower disclosures, finding not only that the number of nonconsensual and medically unnecessary gynecological procedures were far more extensive than previously known, but that the absolute lack of oversight of off-site medical care for those in ICE custody facilitated what amounted to a churn operation of abuse of an invisible, literally hostage population of detained women. The vital role of whistleblowers was underscored by ICE testimony that they would not have known about the abuses at ICDC but for Ms. Wooten’s whistleblowing. That Congress has investigated these horrific abuses but that DHS OIG has yet to issue its own findings more than two years after opening its own investigations—including into Ms. Wooten’s whistleblower retaliation from which she continues to suffer for her truth-telling—is simply appalling. If, as IG Cuffari testified, OIG’s prolonged investigations are indeed the primary mechanism in place for DHS oversight, that is cold comfort that immigrants in ICE detention are being protected from mistreatment. The Committee’s investigation only underscores the need for stronger protections of whistleblowers like Ms. Wooten who essentially are doing the job of oversight for DHS and Congress.” 

Nurse and Whistleblower Dawn Wooten said: 

“I am thankful to God that I did not let them scare me or back down into not saying anything. I remember as a nurse noticing that the doctor was doing a lot of procedures, and management did not want to admit what was going on. I am glad that I spoke up in time to stop anything worse from happening to the women. That makes it all worth it.” 

You can find Dana Gold’s full statement for the record here. 

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

Note: This press release was updated on 11/29/22 to reflect the submission of a revised Statement to the Record to the U.S. Senate. 

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.