The US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency is under pressure following a whistle-blower’s accusations of abuse and neglect in one of its medical facilities. A nurse who worked at a Georgia detention center alleged that poor health care jeopardized patients and helped spread COVID-19. The most alarming charges, however, allege that ICE performed forced sterilization procedures on a number of migrant women.
A Fresh ICE Controversy
Dawn Wooten, formerly a nurse at the Irwin County Detention Center, filed a whistle-blower complaint on Monday, September 14 detailing the allegations. Many of the listed accusations involved a lax response by the institution to COVID-19 concerns.
This allegedly included withholding of testing and data, under-reporting cases, and allowing employees to work after testing positive. According to Wooten, she herself faced “retaliatory reprimand and demotion” after missing work to await her own test results.
Gaining greater attention, however, were accusations in the complaint of an unusually high number of hysterectomies being performed at the facility. Migrant women and nurses both reportedly worried whether women who received the procedure, which removes the uterus, had understood and consented beforehand.
One detained immigrant reportedly claimed to have talked to five migrant women who had the procedure who “reacted confused when explaining why they had one done.”
“When I met all these women who had had surgeries, I thought this was like an experimental concentration camp,” the informant reportedly told advocacy group Project South. “It was like they’re experimenting with our bodies.”
The complaint alleged that one gynecologist, whom Wooten called “the uterus collector,” performed all the procedures.
“Everybody he sees, he’s taking all their uteruses out or he’s taken their tubes out,” she said.
Forced Sterilization Throughout US History
Advocates have pointed out that the outlandish claims unfortunately have ample precedent throughout American history. University of Michigan professor Alexandra Minna Stern alluded specifically to an Indiana sterilization law that passed in 1907, before spreading to 31 other states. These laws reportedly went on to become models for the Nazis.
“Under those laws, about 60,000 people were sterilized in procedures that we would qualify today as being compulsory, forced, involuntary, and under the justifications that the people who were being sterilized were unfit to reproduce,” Stern told CNN.
Center for American Progress director Jamille Fields Allsbrook echoed Stern’s warning.
“The United States has a long and sordid history of reproductive coercion and forced sterilization, particularly targetting Black, Latina, and Native American women as well as women with disabilities and incarcerated women,” said Allsbrook. “These racist, eugenicist practices are often sanctioned by US law, which to this day allows for the sterilization of anyone deemed ‘unfit.'”
Congress Calls For Action
In light of these troubling historical precedents, members of Congress are calling for an investigation into the complaint. Led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the coalition of 168 members sent a letter to Department of Homeland Security Inspector General Joseph Cuffari. The letter called for a thorough probe of the report.
“If true, the appalling conditions described in the whistle-blower complaint — including allegations of mass hysterectomies being performed on vulnerable immigrant women — are a staggering abuse of human rights,” Pelosi said. “This profoundly disgusting situation recalls some of the darkest moments of our nation’s history, from the exploitation of Henrietta Lacks, to the horror of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, to the forced sterilzations of Black women that Fannie Lou Hamer and so many others underwent and fought.”
ICE has denied all allegations of wrongdoing. The agency told NPR it “vehemently disputes the implication that detainees are used for experimental medical procedures.”
Forced Sterilization ICE — Sources