Number Of Women Who Say They Underwent Hysterectomies Against Their Will At Georgia ICE Facility Doubled
Advocates say the rising number could attest to the injustice women in the facilities experience.
October 29, 2020 at 7:36 pm
Update (October 29, 2020): A committee organized by the Senate Democratic Caucus has revealed that at least 17 more women underwent or were pressured into dangerous gynecological surgeries at Irwin County Detention Center (ICDC), a privately managed ICE institution in Georgia.
In a private briefing on Capitol Hill on Monday, caucus members, which included Atlanta Attorney Sarah Owings, two women who were previously detained at the facility and four doctors, expressed that the total number of women who said one of the facility’s doctors intimidated them into unnecessary procedures has ballooned to 57 since 2018, according to The Intercept.
The initial report approximated that 20 or more women detained at ICDC had undergone full or partial hysterectomies in the last six years by Dr. Mahendra Amin, a 68-year-old medical practitioner. But during Monday's meeting, the group of advocates that presented to the Senate said their lawyers found 57 confirmed cases and none of them had received any follow-up care in five weeks.
In September, Dawn Wooten, a nurse at Irwin facility, filed a complaint to the inspector general for the Department of Homeland Security and reported that federal doctors were performing mass hysterectomies on immigrant women against their will, as Blavity previously reported. Wooten’s complaint identified Dr. Amin as the primary culprit, who has since been restricted from seeing patients.
Azadeh Shahshahani, the director of advocacy organization Project South that collaborated with Wooten to raise the complaint, said the numbers presented to the politicians could speak to an even larger scale of injustice for women detained in ICE facilities.
“It pains me to know that there could be many more women out there who will never be able to talk about what happened to them and the abuse that they suffered while at Irwin, let alone receive a measure of redress, while living with the life-long damage to their bodies and spirits,” Shahshahani said. “ICE and the private prison corporation LaSalle must be held to account.”
Tony Pham, ICE’s acting director, told The Intercept in a statement that the agency welcomes any federal investigations and if there is any truth to the allegations, “it is my commitment to make the corrections necessary to ensure we continue to prioritize the health” of ICE detainees.
“The recent allegations by the independent contracted employee raise some very serious concerns that deserve to be investigated quickly and thoroughly,” Pham said.
According to the Los Angeles Times, the review, conducted by a team of certified doctors and nursing experts who reviewed thousands of Irwin detainees’ medical records, found a “disturbing pattern of aggressive treatment, including ‘overcalling’ the need for invasive surgeries, unwarranted pressure to undergo surgery, and a failure to obtain informed consent.”
Original (September 16, 2020): A nurse who works for an ICE facility in Georgia filed a complaint to the Inspector General for the Department of Homeland Security on Monday, writing that government doctors were performing mass hysterectomies on immigrant women against their will, according to Yahoo News.
The doctor has been identified as Dr. Mahendra Amin, a 68-year-old who is also an immigrant according to Prism.
Dawn Wooten worked as a nurse for the Irwin County Detention Center in Georgia which is operated by LaSalle Correction but used by the U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) as a detention facility for immigrants.
Project South, Georgia Detention Watch, Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights and South Georgia Immigrant Support Network all came together to file the complaint on behalf of Wooten.
In the complaint, Wooten lays out her alarming observations and includes anecdotes about officials refusing to test detainees for COVID-19 even if they have symptoms and the mass removal of women's ovaries.“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 in the complaint.
In her statement, Wooten wrote that women who complained of having heavy menstrual cycles or abdominal pain had hysterectomies performed on them by a doctor outside of the facility who she called "the uterus collector.”"Everybody he sees has a hysterectomy — just about everybody. 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. She still wanted children-so she has to go back home now and tell her husband that she can’t bear kids,” Wooten said in the report.
Wooten, who is Black, wrote passionately about how her complaints were received, saying she was demoted in July and reprimanded when she told her superiors that what they were doing was wrong.“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,” she said.
There is a long history of unwanted hysterectomies and sterilization in the United States, particularly with Black women and immigrants. For decades, Black women were sterilized against their will throughout the South during C-sections and other medical procedures.
Legendary civil rights leader Fannie Lou Hamer was sterilized against her will in 1961 while having a small tumor removed.
“In the North Sunflower County Hospital. I would say about six out of the 10 Negro women that go to the hospital are sterilized with the tubes tied,” Hamer once said, according to The Washington Post.
So many Black people were sterilized in North Carolina that the state was forced to compensate people who had reproductive organs forcibly removed during other procedures, according to USA Today.
Wooten said women repeatedly came to her after seeing the doctor outside of the facility to ask why they had their ovaries removed while being treated for other issues.
“Everybody he sees, he’s taking all their uteruses out or he’s taken their tubes out. What in the world,” she wrote.
In addition to the concerns she raised about the hysterectomies and the lack of COVID-19 protections, she also said her supervisor died from COVID-19 after working in the facility. In the report, she says he caught it from people in the facility and that in general, cases of the virus were not being reported.
Women being detained at the Irwin County Detention Center made waves in April when they released a video showing the condition of the facility and the lackluster treatment they were receiving.
The Intercept spoke with Wooten and a lawyer for Project South, who said the nurse's claims were emblematic of the Trump administration's general lack of care about immigrants.
“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,” the lawyer said.
This is not the first report of ICE officials mishandling women and children. During a discussion about Black immigrants from Haiti, South America and Africa led by the non-profit Raices, lawyers said their clients in Texas were reporting troubling instances of medical malpractice.
One lawyer told a horrifying story about a Haitian woman who was pregnant and was having pain as well as bleeding while being held at the Karnes County Correctional Center in Texas. There is no OBGYN at the facility so a prison guard had to take the woman outside of the facility for a medical appointment.
She did not speak English, so after the exam, the doctor told the male guard accompanying her what was happening. The guard never explained to the woman what the doctor said or what was discovered during the exam.
For weeks, she waited for more information about what the doctor told the prison guard. It was three weeks later that she was finally informed that the doctor told the prison guard that her baby had no heartbeat and that she had miscarried.