Democrats to investigate forced surgery claims in Georgia

The Department of Homeland Security flag flies outside the Immigration and Customs Enforcement headquarters in Washington D.C

The allegations were made by Dawn Wooten, a former nurse at the Irwin County Detention Center (ICDC), in a complaint filed to the watchdog, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Office of the Inspector General, on Monday by advocacy groups Project South and the Government Accountability Project.

A nurse who worked at an Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center in Irwin County, Georgia and four lawyers representing clients there are claiming that immigrant women are routinely being sent to a gynecologist who has left them bruised and performed unnecessary procedures, including hysterectomies.

Speaking about the detainees' confusion around the surgery, Ms Wooten wrote in the complaint: "When I met all these women who had had surgeries, I thought this was like an experimental concentration camp".

One woman was originally told she was going to have a short procedure to treat an ovarian cyst but was informed at the hospital they were instead planning to perform a hysterectomy, according to the complaint.

Top Democrats demanded answers Tuesday after a whistleblower nurse filed a complaint claiming that an immigration detention center was performing an exceptional number of hysterectomies on migrant women.

Beyond the allegations related to hysterectomies, the complaint further states that detainees were treated poorly in other ways, including not receiving medical attention when experiencing pain, having life-saving medication withheld from them, and ICDC not conducting enough COVID-19 testing.

It said that evidence raised "red flags regarding the rate at which hysterectomies are performed on immigrant women under ICE custody" at the center.

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". One detainee who was not properly anesthetized during the procedure had reportedly heard the aforementioned doctor tell the nurse he had accidentally removed the wrong ovary, causing her to lose all reproductive ability. She was supposed to get her left ovary removed because it had a cyst on the left ovary; he took out the right one.

Project South, the Georgia Detention Watch, the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights and South Georgia Immigrant Support Network filed the complaint on behalf of detained immigrants and the nurse.

Wooten said the facility failed to isolate possible coronavirus patients and didn't quarantine any migrants in close vicinity who may have been exposed to the disease.

The whistleblower said: 'We've questioned among ourselves like goodness he's taking everybody's stuff out.

A top medical official with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement released a statement "vehemently" disputing the claims, saying only two women have been referred for hysterectomies from the facility since 2018. "They're now being detained, waiting for their day in court, which they're entitled to under the law".

"Everybody he sees has a hysterectomy - just about everybody", Wooten said in the complaint.

The nurse said that the procedure was to treat heavy bleeding, then that she had a "thick womb". The facility is privately contracted by LaSalle Corrections. "I know that's he collecting these things or something?"

"So a lot of them are just non-criminals, and a lot of them are victims of persecution and other harm and crimes", Dzubow explained. 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.

As of Sunday, 42 detainees at the facility had tested positive for the virus, according to ICE. 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.

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".



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