An Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility in Georgia is performing mass hysterectomies on detained immigrants, according to a whistleblower complaint filed by several advocacy groups on behalf of multiple detainees and a nurse who worked at the location.
Nurse Dawn Wooten and several detained women told nonprofit Project South that authorities from the Irwin County Detention Center in Ocilla, Georgia, have sent "many women to see a particular gynecologist outside the facility."
One woman said, "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."
Wooten expressed concern at the high rate of hysterectomies, a surgical procedure that removes parts or all of the uterus, performed on detained immigrants, according to the complaint. While some have health issues that may require a hysterectomy, Wooten said that "everybody's uterus cannot be that bad."
"Everybody he sees has a hysterectomy—just about everybody," she said. "He's even taken out the wrong ovary on a young lady [detained immigrant woman]. She was supposed to get her left ovary removed because it had a cyst on the left ovary; he took out the right one. She was upset. She had to go back to take out the left and she wound up with a total hysterectomy. She still wanted children—so she has to go back home now and tell her husband that she can't bear kids… she said she was not all the way out under anesthesia and heard him [doctor] tell the nurse that he took the wrong ovary."
Wooten added that several detainees were not told why they received hysterectomies. "I've had several inmates tell me that they've been to see the doctor and they've had hysterectomies and they don't know why they went or why they're going," she said. Nurses also allegedly attempted to communicate with detained patients "by simply googling Spanish" or even by asking another detained immigrant to translate, "rather than using the language line as medical staff are supposed to."
The high rate of operations has led other nurses at the ICDC to question the gynecologist's practice. "We've questioned among ourselves like goodness he's taking everybody's stuff out," Wooten said. "That's his specialty, he's the uterus collector."
A detained woman at the ICDC detailed her frustrating experience with getting the procedure. First, a nurse told her that medical staff would have to dilate her vagina and scrape tissue off because she had "heavy bleeding," then later told her it was because she had a "thick womb." The detained woman pushed back, "I tried to explain to her that something isn't right; that procedure isn't for me." In response, the nurse became angry and started to yell, behavior that indicated "something was not right" to the detainee.
Besides the frightening rate of hysterectomies performed on detained immigrants, other detainees came forward with stories of medical neglect and inhumane living conditions, including dirty medical units, overcrowding, and rotten food.
ICDC employees and detainees also reported a lack of personal protective equipment and flagrant violations of COVID-19 guidelines suggested by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"There is no social distancing. We're in an open dorm room. Our beds are nothing but three feet apart. We don't understand how we're supposed to do that," one detained immigrant said. "We breathe the same air, we sneeze, we cough next to each other."
Despite a CDC regulation urging facilities to suspend transfer of detainees due to the pandemic, the detention center is reportedly still transferring individuals in and out—even if they've tested positive for COVID-19. "If I say no, this person doesn't need to be transferred, they're positive, he [Warden Paulk] transfers them anyway," said Wooten.
Wooten also said that ICDC authorities retaliate against employees who push back. One captain, for instance, was fired for attempting to strictly follow CDC guidelines and Performance-Based National Detention Standards, according to Wooten. And she herself experienced a demotion from a full-time nurse to an "as-needed" nurse with irregular shifts.
One immigrant candidly relayed their fears to Project South. "I don't want to die here," they said. "Please release me, let me be with my family… A lot of people are afraid."
In a statement to Vice, ICE said, "ICE takes all allegations seriously and defers to the [Office of Inspector General] regarding any potential investigation and/or results. That said, in general, anonymous, unproven allegations, made without any fact-checkable specifics, should be treated with the appropriate skepticism they deserve."
You Might Also Like