ICE Whistleblower Reports Alleged Forced Hysterectomies on Immigrants

Immigration Detention BeLatina Latinx
Photo courtesy of AP/Kate Brumback

A complaint filed Monday with the Department of Homeland Security’s internal oversight agency reported questionable hysterectomies (surgical removal of the uterus), refusals to screen detainees for COVID-19, and destruction of medical records at an immigration detention center in Georgia.

According to the Associated Press, the complaint is based on the testimony of Dawn Wooten, a nurse who worked full-time at the Irwin County Detention Center until last July.

In a terrifying description, Wooten calls the off-site gynecologist “the uterus collector,” the media adds.

“Everybody he sees has a hysterectomy – just about everybody,” Wooten said. “He’s even taken out the wrong ovary on a young lady.”

The doctor, who has not been identified, performed the Ocilla center’s surgical procedures, about 200 miles south of Atlanta, where men and women detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement are held.

For Wooten, the immigrant women most likely did not know exactly what was happening to consent to the operations knowingly.

“These immigrant women, I don’t think they really, totally, all the way understand this is what’s going to happen depending on who explains it to them,” she is quoted as saying.

Wooten BeLatina Latinx
Dawn Wooten sitting in the park on Sept. 2, 2020. Photo: Courtesy of Dawn Wooten/The Intercept.

The complaint was filed by several legal defense groups warning of “an alarming medical discrepancy” within the center. Among the signatory are Project South, Georgia Detention Watch, Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights, and South Georgia Immigrant Support Network.

According to the Law & Crime digital platform, multiple women volunteered to tell Project South what they perceived to be “the inordinate rate at which women in ICDC were subjected to hysterectomies.”

“Recently, a detained immigrant told Project South that she talked to five different women detained at ICDC between October and December 2019 who had a hysterectomy done,” the complaint stated. “When she talked to them about the surgery, the women ‘reacted confused when explaining why they had one done.’ The woman told Project South that it was as though the women were ‘trying to tell themselves it’s going to be OK.’”

“When I met all these women who had had surgeries, I thought this was like an experimental concentration camp. It was like they’re experimenting with our bodies,” the detainee said.

In an interview with The Intercept, Wooten described how she repeatedly complained to staff leadership before she was demoted in early July from working full time to an on-call position, where she was only offered a few hours a month — a move she charges was retaliation for speaking up and demanding stricter medical safety protocols.

Project South also submitted a complaint to the OIG on Wooten’s behalf, including similar testimony collected from interviews with detainees. Priyanka Bhatt, a staff attorney with the group, told The Intercept, “Ms. Wooten’s whistleblowing disclosures confirm what detained immigrants have been reporting for years — gross disregard for health and safety standards, lack of medical care, and unsanitary living conditions.”