House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Tuesday called for an investigation into a Georgia ICE detention center where a whistleblower complaint from one of the facility’s nurses detailed health care abuses, including questionable hysterectomies and a refusal to test for and report coronavirus cases.
Pelosi said, if true, the “appalling conditions described in the whistleblower complaint” are a “staggering abuse of human rights,” in her statement asking for an immediate investigation by the Department of Homeland Security’s Inspector General.
Several legal advocacy groups filed the 27-page whistleblower complaint with the DHS’s Office of the Inspector General, the agency’s internal watchdog, on Monday, on behalf of nurse Dawn Wooten, citing testimony from Wooten as well as several detainees.
Wooten, who worked full-time at the Irwin Detention Center in Georgia until July, said the facility would send many detainees to see a particular gynecologist outside the facility who she described as the “uterus collector.”
Wooten said that “everybody he sees has a hysterectomy” in the complaint, detailing situations in which some of the immigrant women may not have understood what procedures they were undergoing due to language barriers or poor explanations.
The complaint also details a number of dangerous practices relating to the coronavirus pandemic, including allowing employees to work while they are symptomatic, refusing to test symptomatic detainees, transferring detained immigrants who have tested positive for the virus, neglecting medical complaints and under-reporting Covid-19 cases.
Joining Pelosi in the call for an investigation is a group of 173 members of Congress, who in a Tuesday letter expressed “deep concern for the health and welfare of immigrants in custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.”
ICE spokesperson Lindsay Williams told Forbes that the agency does not comment on matters presented to the Office of the Inspector General, but “in general, anonymous, unproven allegations, made without any fact-checkable specifics, should be treated with the appropriate skepticism they deserve.”
“Reports such as these point to the urgent need to overhaul our unaccountable detention system and its horrific misuse by the Trump Administration, to ensure that these abuses cannot ever again happen,” wrote Pelosi.
“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,” Priyanka Bhatt, a staff attorney for Project South, one of the groups that filed the complaint on behalf of Wooten, told CBS.
ICE, founded in 2003, has drawn significant controversy in recent years for its handling of unauthorized immigrants arriving in the U.S. A 2019 report from The New York Times detailed “horrendous conditions” at a facility in Clint, Texas, including outbreaks of scabies, shingles and chickenpox among the hundreds of children and adults being held in cramped cells. Other reports of the conditions in which children were being held at the border led to a House Oversight subcommittee hearing in July of last year. Major coronavirus outbreaks at ICE facilities across the country over the past few months have caused additional concern.
“Disproportionate Sterilization of Latinos Under California’s Eugenic Sterilization Program, 1920–1945” (American Journal of Public Health)
“Hungry, Scared and Sick: Inside the Migrant Detention Center in Clint, Tex.” (The New York Times)
“Lack of Medical Care, Unsafe Work Practices, and Absence of Adequate Protection Against COVID-19 for Detained Immigrants and Employees Alike at the Irwin County Detention Center” (Whistleblower Complaint)