A complaint filed Monday with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) by the human rights group Project South alleges that a privately owned immigration jail in Georgia is performing a high number of hysterectomies on detainees without their “informed consent.”
Project South quoted a detainee from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Irwin County Detention Center (ICDC), which is owned by LaSalle Southwest Corrections in Georgia, who said at least five women were given a hysterectomy between October and December 2019 from a gynecologist outside the facility. When asked why they had the procedures, the women “reacted confused when explaining why they had one done,” according to the complaint.
The unidentified detainee said the procedures were like experiments.
“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,” she said.
Another unidentified detainee reported to Project South that staff at ICDC and the doctor’s office did not explain what procedure she was going to have, telling Project South it “felt like they were trying to mess with my body.”
She was allegedly given three different responses as to what procedure would be done, with the doctor allegedly telling her she was getting ovarian cysts drained, while the transport officer told her she was going to have a hysterectomy. A nurse at the prison reportedly told her she was going to have tissue scraped off.
A licensed practical nurse and protected whistleblower who works at the facility, Ms. Dawn Wooten, corroborated the detainee’s claim that many women were undergoing the procedure, perhaps unnecessarily, according to the complaint.
“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,” Wooten said, per the complaint.
Wooten said the rate of hysterectomies was alarming, a feeling allegedly shared by other nurses at the facility.
“We’ve questioned among ourselves like goodness he’s taking everybody’s stuff out…That’s his specialty, he’s the uterus collector. 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,” she said.
Wooten said a language barrier exacerbated the situation, with many of the detainees struggling to understand the English speaking nurses who allegedly googled Spanish words to help the detainee understand what was going on, per the complaint.
Several women bolstered the claims made in Project South’s complaint while speaking to The Intercept. Detainees at ICDC said they were pressured to undergo either full or partial hysterectomies, according to The Intercept. An activist claimed one woman detained in ICDC allegedly saw the doctor for spotting, but the doctor said the woman had a cyst and needed her uterine tissue removed. The doctor removed part of the woman’s Fallopian tube during the procedure, claiming it “was clogged” despite the woman never giving her consent, per the report.
All of the women who spoke to The Intercept said it wasn’t made clear why they needed the procedure and there was allegedly no translator present.
Wooten told The Intercept that at least 20 women have undergone hysterectomies over the last six years.
In a statement to The Daily Caller, Dr. Ada Rivera, Medical Director of the ICE Health Service Corps, said the agency is investigating the allegations.
“The accusations will be fully investigated by an independent office, however, ICE vehemently disputes the implication that detainees are used for experimental medical procedures…the health, welfare and safety of ICE detainees is one of the agency’s highest priorities, any assertion or claim to the contrary is false and intentionally misleading.”
Rivera said ICE detainees receive routine gynecological exams and health care. Rivera said since 2018 only two individuals at ICDC were referred to certified gynecologists for hysterectomies. (RELATED: Judge Rejects Demand To Release Illegal Aliens In ICE Detention)
The DHS Office of Inspector General (OIG) said they are also investigating the matter in an official statement to The Daily Caller.
“DHS OIG takes these allegations very seriously. We will be interviewing Dawn Wooten, who initiated this complaint, to hear her allegations first-hand,” a spokesperson for the DHS OIG said. “We have also initiated an evaluation of the Irwin County Detention Center, to include records reviews, interviews with detainees and staff, evaluation of medical care and services, and related matters.”
ICE Spokesperson Lindsay Williams said in an official statement to The Daily Caller that ICE “does not comment on matters presented to the Office of the Inspector General,” but that “ICE takes all allegations seriously and defers to the OIG [Office of Inspector General] regarding any potential investigation and/or results.”
Williams added that “in general, anonymous, unproven allegations, made without any fact-checkable specifics, should be treated with the appropriate skepticism they deserve.”
According to ICE, if a detainee is given a hysterectomy recommendation then the surgery requires approval from the Regional Clinical Director. The detainee must consent to the procedure.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi called for an investigation into the allegations Tuesday.
If true, the appalling conditions described at an ICE detention facility — including allegations of mass hysterectomies performed on immigrant women — are a staggering abuse of human rights. @DHSOIG must immediately investigate these allegations. https://t.co/Rkr3yLt54r
— Nancy Pelosi (@SpeakerPelosi) September 15, 2020
“If true, the appalling conditions described in the whistleblower complaint-including allegations of mass hysterectomies being performed on vulnerable immigrant women-are a staggering abuse of human rights,” Pelosi said in an official statement. “Congress and the American people need to know why and under what conditions so many women, reportedly without their informed consent, were pushed to undergo this extremely invasive and life-altering procedure.”
The Daily Caller has reached out to LaSalle Southwest Corrections for comment but did not receive a response by the time of publication.