GA nurse alleges rights violations

Whistleblower says ICE doctors sterilized female immigrants without consent

wrtiten By: Grace Hamilton, staff writer
Photo Courtesy of Flickr
Whistleblower nurse Dawn Wooten alleges that Irwin County Detention Center, an Immigrations and Customs Enforcement detention center, performed hysterectomies on unauthorized immigrants without their knowledge.

An immigration detention center in Georgia is facing allegations of forced hysterectomies from a former nurse. 

The whistleblower, Dawn Wooten, describes forced sterilizations on women, unsafe work practices and the denial of tests and treatments for COVID-19.  

Irwin County Detention Center, a privatized facility run by LaSalle Corrections in Ocilla, Ga., has been accused of abuse in the past by immigrants detained there.These complaints have been supported by Wooten.  

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chairman Joaquin Castro and Senators Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Richard Blumenthal  (D-Conn.) along with several other Democratic members of Congress have urged the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to investigate the allegations by Sept. 25. 

Pelosi described these claims as a “staggering abuse of human rights.” 

Xavier Spanish professor Irene Hodgson expressed her agreement with Pelosi’s statement in an interview. 

Hodgson elaborated on the abuse of women’s rights, posing the question of whether there is informed consent in these situations due to language barriers. She described “chain interpretations,” where a doctor will explain the hysterectomy to a translator, who translates to a husband, who must translate to his wife. 

For nursing student Madison Colbert, the forced sterilizations go against a medical professional’s duty. 

“A big thing they teach us here at Xavier about a nurse’s responsibility is to advocate for a patient’s best interests, and another big thing in the nursing world right now is that patients have their own voice so the fact they’re being forced is ethically wrong. As a nurse we’re called to stand up for the good of other people,” Colbert said.

Hodgson described these forced sterilizations as part of a larger pattern  of dehumanizing people in order to “declare them the enemy.” To her, it is a U.S. idea to control the reproduction of those deemed unfit.

For Hodgson, it comes down to who the U.S. wants to immigrate. 

“It’s clear to me that our policy is racist,” she said, describing the difficulties of immigrating legally, especially for those who are poor and not White,” Hodgson said.

According to  Hodgson, a majority of immigrants who overstay their visas are Eastern-European.  

Forced sterilization performed in government agencies isn’t new either, Hodgson explained. She recounted sterilizations of Native American women, Puerto-Rican women and Black women — policies that inspired the eugenics programs of Nazi Germany. 

Though the whistleblower complaint specifically names Irwin County Detention Center, Hodgson believes  that hysterectomies could be happening in other immigrant detainment centers in California, Arizona, Oklahoma, Texas and other states. 

There is a history of detention centers ignoring the United Nations’ standard of human rights. She alluded to the reports of many detention centers not providing soap, toothpaste and other hygiene products to their detainees, and lawyers who argued that there is no obligation on the part of detention centers to provide hygienic products. 

Hodgson asked, “If you don’t have a right to soap, then what do you have a right to?” 

Under the Trump administration, from forced sterilizations and the denial of access to basic hygiene products,  there have been many reports of the mistreatments of immigrants. 

Beginning in 2017, immigrants found crossing the border between Mexico and Texas were detained and criminally charged. Those with children were separated from them with no way of reuniting again as the government had no system in place to reunite families.

In 2018, the DHS reported that around 200 children had been separated from their parents. 

Only two days later, several journalists and human rights advocates toured a facility where unattended children were being kept in cages. 

In 2019, almost 5,000 reports of sexual abuse of immigrant children in detention centers were filed with the federal government; the reports ranged from kissing to rape. 

Further reports detailed almost 1,500 missing children, prompting some to suspect human trafficking.  

Ultimately, Hodgson said, “We’re horrified about the hysterectomies, but we’re not surprised.”