Dawn Wooten, a former employee at the Irwin County Detention Center (ICDC), has come forward with reports of mass hysterectomies at a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facility in Georgia. During her time as an employee at the detention center, which is operated by LaSalle Corrections, Wooten says that she spoke to several people who had their uteruses removed in unwarranted hysterectomy procedures in addition to LaSalle's blatant disregard for testing detainees for COVID-19.
According to an official complaint filed with the Office of the Inspector General for the Department of Homeland Security, Wooten claims that ICDC performed hysterectomies on people who reported having heavy menstrual cycles or other more serious pain. However, the detainees that Wooten spoke to noted that "everybody’s uterus cannot be that bad."
"I've had several inmates tell me that they’ve been to see the doctor and they've had hysterectomies and they don’t know why they went or why they're going," Wooten said. She added that ICDC only used one out-of-facility doctor. He is responsible for every one of the hysterectomies in the claim in addition to an incident where he removed the incorrect ovary from a patient.
"He's the uterus collector. Everybody he sees has a hysterectomy — just about everybody," Wooten added. "He's even taken out the wrong ovary on a young lady [detained immigrant woman]. She was supposed to get her left ovary removed because it had a cyst on the left ovary; he took out the right one."
A group of advocacy groups, including Project South, Georgia Detention Watch, Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights, and South Georgia Immigrant Support Network filed the complaint on behalf of Wooten and includes several other malpractice claims and a general disregard for proper reporting. The file also notes that Wooten came forward because she'd been reprimanded and demoted when she addressed all the issues she'd seen and heard about.
"You put two and two together," she said. "I'm asking for these things and speaking for these detainees. I'm a problem. I'm being seen and I'm not supposed to be seen or heard. It makes you look like you’re not doing your job."
Project South Staff Attorney Priyanka Bhatt said that the new accusations are just the latest in a long list of complaints coming from ICDC.
"For years, advocates in Georgia have raised red flags about the human rights violations occurring inside the Irwin County Detention Center. Ms. Wooten's whistleblowing disclosures confirm what detained immigrants have been reporting for years: gross disregard for health and safety standards, lack of medical care, and unsanitary living conditions at Irwin," she said. "We call on DHS to conduct an investigation into the Irwin County Detention Center in order to protect the health and safety of the detained immigrants and the workers there."
The issue caught the attention of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who noted on Twitter that the United States has been engaging in human rights violations, including "mass child separation, systemic sexual assault of people in detention, kangaroo-court procedures."
Other politicians also commented, demanding more information and a formal investigation.
Government Accountability Project staff attorney John Whitty told CBS News, "Ms. Wooten's whistleblowing disclosures reveal not only gross mismanagement from LaSalle leadership, but actions that deliberately put the health of detainees, workers, and the public at risk. It is up to DHS to heed the warnings of employee whistleblowers like Ms. Wooten and take action to enforce protective measures against the rampant spread of COVID-19."
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