Updated: Oct 18, 2021
On September 14, 2020, a complaint was filed that detailed the high rate of unwanted hysterectomies, medical neglect, and disregard of CDC guidelines in a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention center. The whistleblower, Dawn Wooten, was a licensed practical nurse at the Irwin County Detention Center (ICDC) in Ocilla, Georgia. ICDC is the ICE detention center where the claims took place.
A hysterectomy is a medical procedure performed to remove a patient’s uterus, which leaves the patient unable to become pregnant forever. A hysterectomy may be performed due to heavy or unusual vaginal bleeding, cancer or precancer of the uterus, ovary, cervix, or endometrium.
Senators Tom Carper and Chris Coons and 40 other Senators are calling for a prompt investigation of the claims of forced hysterectomies along with at least 170 other representatives. “Forced sterilizations infringe on reproductive rights and autonomy. To understand whether such violations may have been committed against immigrants in our federal government’s custody, the Inspector General’s Office should immediately investigate the reproductive health policies and practices at the ICDC and at other facilities, including but not limited to, all instances of forced, coerced, or medically unnecessary hysterectomies,” the senators said.
Priyanka Bhatt, an attorney at Project South, the advocacy group that filed the complaint, told The Washington Post that she included the forced hysterectomy testimonies in the complaint without speaking to any of the women who had one because she wanted to trigger an investigation to uncover if the accusations were true. “I didn’t speak to anyone who had one, but the things we have heard are concerning, and we need to find out more information […] when investigating human rights abuses, we conduct extensive interviews with immigrants, and our job is to report what they tell us,” Bhatt said.
A detained immigrant at ICDC reported that she had talked to five women who were also at ICDC and had a hysterectomy performed on them. It is unclear if the five women in the report had conditions that required a hysterectomy. The women “reacted confused when explaining why they had [a hysterectomy] done […] [ICDC] was like an experimental concentration camp. It’s like they’re experimenting with our bodies,” the unidentified detainee said.
The whistleblower claims that some detainees told her that they didn’t know why they needed a hysterectomy nor were they able to give consent. She witnessed sick call nurses trying to communicate with patients by googling Spanish or asking another detained immigrant to translate for them instead of using an interpreter available over the language line. Studies show that optimal communication from trained bilingual interpreters between patients and doctors yields the fewest interpretation errors. One woman had a cyst in her left ovary and only one ovary needed to be removed. Instead, she received a full hysterectomy leaving her unable to conceive. According to Wooten, she wanted to go home and start a family. “These immigrant women, I don’t think they really, totally, all the way understand this is what’s going to happen depending on who explains it to them,” Wooten said.
The Electronic Code of Federal Regulations states that any individual who wishes to get sterilized must consent orally and in writing. The consent form discloses that a hysterectomy is permanent and leaves the individual unable to get pregnant or bear children. Dr. Mahendra Amin, the physician linked to the whistleblower, vigorously denies all allegations of performing hysterectomies without patient permission. If the reports are true, Amin would be subject to disciplinary action under Code Chapter 43-34 and Chapter 360-3 of the Rules of the Georgia Composite Medical Board, which could result in the revocation of his license.
Further investigation is required to determine whether the claims in the whistleblower complaint are true. If these reports are found to be true, ICDC will have violated the reproductive rights of at least five women. This would be yet another instance where ICE has been said to violate basic human rights.
Through Teen Lenses: How Legitimate is the whistleblower complaint?
“Although the accuracy of a whistleblower complaint like this is impossible to tell at this point, I am very inclined to believe it. ICE has been known to disregard human rights of immigrants on countless occasions and I would be unsurprised (although still horrified) if this was the newest installment.” Grace Jackson, 17, Senior at Stone Ridge School, Falls Church, Virginia
“This is legitimate, and it is scary. If this happened to an American citizen, there would be outrage, but the fact that it might be happening to immigrants without more protest is nothing short of horrifying. Any decent human being would be moving to defund ICE immediately.” Maxx Yang, 15, Sophomore at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, Alexandria, Virginia
“At this point in time, while the complaint warrants a serious investigation by a 3rd party, the allegations are one-sided, and the doctor’s deflections cannot be disproven. More accurate information needs to come in before a formal decision, such as a court ruling, can be made.” Wanli Tan, 16, Junior at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, Alexandria, Virginia