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ICE declines comment on allegations of hysterectomies without consent in detention centers

CNA Tuesday, 15 September 2020 ()
Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 15, 2020 / 09:32 am (CNA).- U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has declined to comment on allegations that hysterectomies were performed on detained immigrant women without their full consent. A complaint was filed with the Office of the Inspector General last week, alleging medical neglect at a detention center in Georgia.

After an initial report from The Intercept, news outlet Law & Crime reported on Monday that a whistleblower complaint was filed Sept. 8 with the OIG at the Department of Homeland Security, including testimony from immigrants at the ICE detention center in Georgia and a nurse at the center. The complaint alleges that immigrant women there underwent hysterectomies at an extraordinarily high rate. 

One detainee likened the conditions to “an experimental concentration camp.” Women were reported to be “confused” as to the procedure they had received.

In response to questions from CNA, on Monday night ICE said that it “does not comment on matters presented to the Office of the Inspector General.”

ICE added that “in general, anonymous, unproven allegations, made without any fact-checkable specifics, should be treated with the appropriate skepticism they deserve.”

The whistleblower complaint was filed on behalf of nurse Dawn Wooten at Irwin County Detention Center, the site of an ICE detention center operated by LaSalle Corrections, a private prison company. Several organizations filed the complaint—the activist group Project South, Georgia Detention Watch, Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights, and SouthGeorgia Immigrant Support Network.

They alleged “jarring medical neglect” of immigrants at the center, including a high rate of hysterectomies performed on immigrant women—at times without their full consent.

The whistleblower, nurse Dawn Wooten, said in the report that “Hispanics are treated the worst in the facility. I mean literally. They can’t speak English. Even though they [ICDC] have the language line there, if they’re trying to get understanding of their health it’s like take these pills and get the hell on…[Hispanics] hurt and suffer through it.”

Wooten, as well as several immigrant women, alleged that detainees were given hysterectomies at an alarmingly high rate, while under the care of a particular doctor contracted by the facility.

One immigrant told Project South that during a two-month period, she met five other women at the prison who had received hysterectomies, and who “reacted confused when explaining why they had one done.” 

The detainee related that women were “trying to tell themselves it’s going to be OK,” and that she thought of the prison that “this was like an experimental concentration camp. It was like they’re experimenting with our bodies.”

Wooten said she noticed a high number of women who had undergone hysterectomies in the course of her duties at the prison, and recalled thinking that “everybody’s uterus cannot be that bad.” 

She alleged that one doctor in particular was responsible, calling him “the uterus collector.”

“Everybody he sees has a hysterectomy—just about everybody,” she said, alleging that the doctor once removed the wrong ovary from one immigrant woman and had to subsequently remove the other one and perform a complete hysterectomy.

Wooten agreed with accounts from detainees who said they had undergone hysterectomies without fully understanding what was happening.

“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.

“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.”

Wooten also reported an alarming communications gap in the detention center, saying that nurses conducting sick calls would often resort to googling Spanish words or phrases in order to communicate with immigrants.

According to the complaint, another detainee was frightened and did not understand what medical procedure she was receiving; she was reportedly given three different answers by three different staffers.

The complaint also alleged a “lack of protection against COVID-19 for detained immigrants,” as well as a lack of testing for the virus and a “general lack of medical care” at the center. Medical records of immigrants were allegedly shredded or fabricated.

ICE says that its detention centers are regularly inspected and that the Irwin County facility routinely met its Performance Based National Detention Standards.

However, a DHS Inspector General report from June of 2018 said that ICE inspections of its facilities—including the Irwin detention center—did not lead to compliance or improvements; the type of inspection used at Irwin was “too broad” in scope, the report concluded, was “not consistently thorough,” and “ICE’s guidance on procedures is unclear.”

A December, 2017 report of the DHS Inspector General of five ICE facilities--not including Irwin--noted the problem of “language barriers” in obtaining proper informed consent for medical procedures on immigrants.

“At times, language barriers prevented detainees from understanding medical staff,” the report stated. “Although it might have cleared up confusion, staff did not always use language translation services, which are available by phone, during medical exams of detainees.”
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