Dingell Calls for Immediate Investigation into Hysterectomies Performed on Immigrant Women in Irwin County, Georgia
174 Members Urge DHS Inspector General to Look Into Startling Whistleblower Allegations from Irwin County, Georgia
Washington, September 16, 2020
WASHINGTON, DC – Today, Congresswoman Debbie Dingell (D-MI) and 173 members of Congress called on the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Inspector General to open an immediate investigation into new whistleblower allegations of mass hysterectomies being performed on women detained at the privately-run Irwin County Detention Center in Ocilla, GA. The lawmakers requested a briefing on the status of an investigation by Friday, September 25.
Dingell said, “If true, this is simply horrific. There are no words for how appalling and wrong it is that vulnerable women in ICE detention centers were reportedly given hysterectomies without consent. Further, these reports are closer to what we’ve seen in history of crimes against humanity than what we stand for as Americans. We cannot forget our humanity. And because of that we need answers now.”
“We are horrified to see reports of mass hysterectomies performed on detained women in the facility without their full, informed consent and request. Everyone—regardless of their immigration status, their language, or their incarceration—deserves to control their own reproductive choices and make informed choices about their bodies,” wrote the lawmakers. “We request that your office immediately open an investigation to thoroughly examine allegations raised.”
The letter follows alarms raised by a whistleblower and numerous immigrants who shared their concerns about the high rates of hysterectomies being performed, calling the facility an, “experimental concentration camp” and the doctor performing the procedures, “the uterus collector.” One immigrant reported that she knew of five women who had hysterectomies within a three month period. The whistleblower complaint also raises questions as to whether there was proper, informed consent by many of the women. It details that several women did not know why they even went to a doctor.
The lawmakers’ letter also notes the abhorrent similarities between the allegations from the Irwin County Detention center and the United States’ shameful history of sterilization. More than 30 states passed eugenic-sterilization laws that disproportionately targeted people of color and incarcerated individuals. By the end of 1963, more than 3,000 individuals had been sterilized in Georgia alone as the state was responsible for the fifth highest number of sterilizations. This cruel practice has unfortunately continued into more recent times for incarcerated individuals.
Dingell signed the letter led by Representatives Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), Judy Chu (D-CA), Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), and Zoe Lofgren (D-CA).
The text of the letter is available here or below:
Dear Mr. Cuffari:
We write to express deep concern for the health and welfare of immigrants in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) who are currently detained at the Irwin County Detention Center (ICDC), operated by LaSalle Corrections. We are horrified to see reports of mass hysterectomies performed on detained women in the facility, without their full, informed consent and request that the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) conduct an immediate investigation. We request that your office immediately open an investigation to thoroughly examine allegations raised by whistleblower Dawn Wooten and immigrants detained and formerly detained in the ICDC.
In the complaint submitted to your office outlining the concerns by Ms. Wooten and numerous immigrants who have spoken to Project South, there is wide concern about the high rates of hysterectomies performed on detained women. One detained immigrant reported that she knew five women who had hysterectomies within a three-month period between October and December, 2019. This woman likened the facility to an “experimental concentration camp” and Nurse Wooten said that hysterectomies were that doctor’s “specialty, he’s the uterus collector.” While Ms. Wooten noted that some of the women who had hysterectomies reported heavy menstruation or other severe issues, the high rates of hysterectomies were seemingly inexplicable and remarkably concerning.
The complaint also raised questions as to whether there was proper, informed consent by many of the women who had hysterectomies. Ms. Wooten claims that several of the women who had hysterectomies did not know why they even went to the doctor. Further, she reports that the language line was not consistently used by medical staff and some nurses attempted to communicate with the Spanish-speaking detained women using Google or asking other detained immigrants to interpret. One immigrant woman explained her experience receiving three different explanations as to why she was going to have a hysterectomy, and said that she “felt like they were trying to mess with my body.” She reports that a nurse became angry and yelled at her for expressing that she thought the procedure was not appropriate for her.
These reports hearken back to a dark time in U.S. history in which 32 states passed eugenic-sterilization laws, resulting in the sterilization of between 60 and 70 thousand people in the early 1900s. This practice continued for incarcerated individuals into recent times, as nearly 150 incarcerated women in California prisons were sterilized between 2006 and 2010. In Georgia alone, 3,284 individuals had been sterilized by the end of 1963, as the state was responsible for the fifth highest number of sterilizations in the country. This shameful history of sterilization in the United States, in particular sterilization of people of color and incarcerated people, must never be repeated. Yet, the similarities to the accounts of immigrant women and nurses in the Irwin County Detention Center today are eerily similar.
The reports of mass hysterectomies cause grave concern for the violation of the bodily autonomy and reproductive rights detained people. Everyone, regardless of their immigration status, their language, or their incarceration deserve to control their own reproductive choices, and make informed choices about their bodies. We request an immediate investigation into these reports. We request a response and a briefing on the status of this investigation by Friday, September 25, 2020.