Several immigration rights advocacy groups have filed a complaint accusing the Irwin County Detention Center in Georgia of allowing a “high rate” of hysterectomies on immigrant women, among other allegations of “jarring medical neglect” and a lack of COVID-19 safety precautions.
The complaint was submitted to the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General on Monday by Project South and others on behalf of whistleblower Dawn Wooten, who worked at Irwin as a nurse for three years, according to The Intercept.
Wooten told Project South in the complaint that many of the Spanish-speaking female immigrants at the facility did not fully understand what a hysterectomy was or why it was being performed on them.
“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. “[When they do understand] some of them a lot of times won’t even go, they say they’ll wait to get back to their country to go to the doctor.”
One unnamed immigrant confirmed to Project South that “a lot of women here go through a hysterectomy.” She likened Irwin to an “experimental concentration camp,” where doctors “experiment… with our bodies.”
The same woman told Project South she knew of five detainees who had hysterectomies between October and December 2019. They all “reacted confused when explaining why they had one done,” she said. Many of them, she added, saw a gynecologist outside the facility for the procedure after complaining of heavy menstrual cycles.
“Everybody he sees has a hysterectomy, just about everybody,” Wooten said said of the same doctor.
Calling him a “uterus collector,” Wooten claims he took “everybody’s stuff out…That’s his specialty… I know that’s ugly…is he collecting these things or something…Everybody he sees, he’s taking all their uteruses out or he’s taken their tubes out. What in the world.”
The complaint also alleges several health and safety violations related to the medical procedures. In one case, Wooten said, a woman was not properly anesthetized and heard a doctor telling a nurse that he accidentally removed the wrong ovary.
“She was supposed to get her left ovary removed because it had a cyst on the left ovary,” Wooten said. “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.”
A U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement representative released this statement to Law & Crime News in response to the complaint: “U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) does not comment on matters presented to the Office of the Inspector General, which provides independent oversight and accountability within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. ICE takes all allegations seriously and defers to the OIG 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.”
Priyanka Bhatt, a staff attorney with Project South, told The Intercept that 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.”