CW: The following article details invasive forms of medical abuse
On September 14th, a whistleblower named Dawn Wooten claimed that The United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention center facility, where she was a nurse, had been performing mass hysterectomies on female detainees. This is not the first time that this type of gender oppression and forced sterilization has occurred in America’s long history of aggression toward minority groups. According to a report from The Associated Press, more migrant women have since come forward and confirmed that they did not consent or agree to the procedure.
Immigration attorneys have begun to interview female detainees in response to a 27 page complaint by Project South, Georgia Detention Watch, Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights, and South Georgia Immigrant Support Network. According to Priyanka Bhatt, a staff attorney at the Project South advocacy group, a woman was pressured by authorities to have a hysterectomy performed on her, and was told that ICE would not be providing or paying for her to get a second opinion on the matter. Multiple other female detainees have revealed their horrendous experiences regarding the removal of their Fallopian tubes and ovaries. This report details the accusations made by the Irwin County Detention Center’s Nurse Wooten, who addressed not only the forced sterilization procedures being performed, but also the refusal to test detainees for COVID-19.
According to the National Public Radio Podcast 1A, Wooten came forward by filing a complaint to formally accuse her agency and Dr. Mahendra Anim for violating the rights of detained women by performing non-consensual surgeries whilst failing to comply to Covid-19 restrictions imparted by the CDC (Centers for Disease and Control). The 34 minute podcast included a statement from Wooten, who expressed perturbing details of the women’s stories, particularly a woman who inquired about the motives of Dr. Anim, calling him the “uterus collector.” Other notable guests featured in this episode included Michelle Brané, Elizabeth Matherne, and Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal. The show’s broadcaster, Jen White, reached out to ICE as well as other private corporations that own detention centers to join the program. ICE officials continue to assure the public that accusations against their entity are baseless, yet they allowed a thorough investigation to be conducted by a third-party organization.
Prior to this issue, Ms. Brané, Senior Director of the Migrants Rights and Justice Program of the Women’s Refugee Commission, shed light on the issue showcasing concern about the mediocre medical care, inadequate due process, and unsanitary conditions of these centers. Another major topic included the inadequate protections against Covid-19 exposure during these procedures. While Ms. Brané neither confirmed nor denied such allegations, she did express an opinion of a systematic dilemma that is echoed in later conversations.
Elizabeth Matherne, Senior Counsel/Immigration Attorney at the Irwin County Detention Center, represented several women who were affected by these procedures and acknowledged that complaints against medical staff workers at ICE began in the fall of 2018. Some of the prevalent grievances included rough treatment during pelvic exams, lack of explanation of procedures, and negligence of patient pain, which parallels the whistleblower’s complaint.
To gain further insight into ICE as an entity, White introduced a video made by the Management Trading Corporation (MTC) to discuss their relationship with ICE. The MTC contradicted the recent allegations, and assured the public of the pristine conditions and quality healthcare that they provide in the five ICE detention centers that they supervise. Additionally, Matherne offered her expertise on private companies and their precedence over ICE. She explained a contractual relationship exists between both parties; billions of dollars are at stake, hence supervising corporations are the ones administering these amounts. These claims concur with the systematic issues surrounding ICE facilities.
The final guest speaker was Democratic Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal for Washington State’s seventh district. She serves as the Vice-Chair on the House Judiciary Committee and the Immigration Subcommittee. Ms. Jayapal commented on reports published by the House Committee on Homeland Security. She confirmed that detention facilities are managed by private entities, and because of their monopolizing influence, they circumvent standards instituted by the Department Homeland Security and ICE. She also advocated for the Dignity for Detained Immigrants bill, which if signed into law, would bar private for-profit companies from running detention centers. This bill would alter these incarcerated facilities by reimagining safe spaces to accommodate immigrant asylum seekers. These provisions would ultimately provide protections for immigrants, many of whom are wrongfully perceived as felons.