Is ICE Sterilizing Women Detainees? Whistleblower Also Alleges Other Abuses

Health Care Professionals Call On ICE To Release All Immigrants During COVID-19 Pandemic

Source Joe Raedle Getty

Staff at the LaSalle Corrections-owned Irwin County Detention Center (ICDC) of Ocilla, Georgia, engaged in "medical neglect" and "hazardous and reckless actions" regarding COVID-19 testing, hysterectomies, medical documents and additional health-related affairs of detained immigrants, the nonprofit whistleblower advocacy group Government Accountability Project and the human rights organization Project South alleged in a joint complaint filed on Monday with Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of Inspector General (OIG).

The facility in Ocilla, about 200 miles (320 kilometers) south of Atlanta, houses men and women detainees for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, as well as inmates for the U.S. Marshals Service and Irwin County.

"When I met all these women who had had surgeries, I thought this was like an experimental concentration camp".

Wooten says that numerous nurses tried to communicate with the women by "Googling Spanish" or by asking another detainee to translate, rather than the official language services they're supposed to use.

Wooten, who provided direct care for migrants at the center, said they were frequently and intentionally denied medical care - including those who showed symptoms of COVID-19.

The nurse also confirmed that numerous detainees told her they didn't understand why they were being forced to have the surgery, noting that some of the nurses who didn't speak Spanish obtained consent from detainees "by simply googling Spanish".

Several women, including Wooten, came forward to tell Project South about what they felt was an excessive amount of inmates being subjected to hysterectomies.

Wooten goes on to claim that the facility used one particular outside gynecologist who always opted to remove all parts of the female uterus, instead of just a piece like most hysterectomies.

The nurse's complaint was filed with Homeland Security's inspector general, and with the department's civil rights office, the ICE field office in Atlanta and the warden of the detention center. "Everybody's uterus can not be that bad", Wooten is quoted as stating in the complaint, describing this doctor as the "uterus collector".

Wooten also says that all of these (often presumably unnecessary) surgeries were done by the same doctor. When she countered one of the reasons given by noting that the justification of reducing her menstrual bleeding didn't fit with her medical history, a nurse "responded by getting angry and agitated, and began yelling at her", the complaint states.

"We've questioned among ourselves like goodness he's taking everybody's stuff out..." She said she was demoted after she missed time for presenting symptoms of the virus. The facility is privately contracted by LaSalle Corrections.

Individuals who tested positive for COVID-19 were transferred into the facility and out to other facilities, another violation of CDC guidelines. "It was like they're experimenting with our bodies'".

"I don't think this is necessarily a systemic sterilization by ICE I think this is the kind of thing that is allowed to flourish in the course of poor oversight and bad, inhumane conditions of confinement", said Owings. "Ms Wooten's whistleblowing disclosures confirm what detained immigrants have been reporting for years". "... 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". The complaints also say the center failed to maintain acceptable levels of hygiene and sanitation in exam rooms and declined to provide personal protective equipment to medical and correctional staff.

The agency added: "ICE takes all allegations seriously and defers to the OIG regarding any potential investigation and/or results".

ICE responded to the allegations on Monday evening, suggesting in a statement that charges from anonymous patients cited in the complaint "should be treated with the appropriate skepticism they deserve". ICE reported that 31 detainees at the facility had tested positive since the start of the pandemic, but Wooten and another medical worker who spoke to The Intercept alleged that there were at least 50 positive cases by early July.

According to Wooten, ICDC consistently used a particular gynecologist - outside the facility - who nearly always opted to remove all or part of the uterus of his female detainee patients.

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