By: Sofia Waterhouse, 3L
Dawn Wooten, a licensed practical nurse formerly employed by the Irwin County Detention Center (ICDC) in Georgia, recently filed a whistleblower report claiming an alarmingly high rate of hysterectomies performed on Spanish speaking women at the detention center. On September 14th, Project South, along with several other human rights groups, filed a complaint on behalf of the detained immigrants at ICDC and Wooten. The complaint documents the recent accounts of “jarring medical neglect” at ICDC, including ICDCs “disregard for public health guidelines” in the poor handling of COVID-19, as well as the numerous hysterectomies performed on immigrant women under ICE custody.
For years, detained immigrants at ICDC have reported human rights abuses including lack of medical and mental health care, due process violations, unsanitary living conditions, and more. But now, several immigrant women have reported concerns about the deplorable number of women who have received a hysterectomy while detained at ICDC. Dr. Mahendra Amin, the ICE doctor performing the procedures at ICDC, is not certified by the American Board Obstetrics as a gynecologist. Nevertheless, Wooten alleges in her complaint that he is known as the “uterus collector” and that “everybody he sees has a hysterectomy – just about everybody.” Unfortunately, a number of the hysterectomies performed were done without proper informed consent. Several women noted that they were pressured by the doctor to undergo partial or full hysterectomies. Furthermore, no interpreter was present to provide an explanation, often leaving these women unclear as to the necessity or purpose of the proposed treatment.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called for an investigation into the allegations, stating that if true, the whistleblower claims represented a “staggering abuse of human rights.” Many politicians, immigration lawyers, and advocates have spoken out since the complaint was filed, as they fear that these practices are not isolated to one center or one doctor. Commentators noted the disturbing parallel to the United States past history of forced sterilization under eugenics laws that existed in over thirty states. Alexandra Minna Stern, professor of history at the University of Michigan and Director of the Sterilization and Social Justice Lab, pointed out that sterilization practices started as an assault on people with perceived disabilities and mental health issues, but later expanded and began to irreparably affect women of color, Native Americans, and by the 1970s, a third of all women in Puerto Rico in efforts to “control the population.”
While US immigration officials say they are taking the allegations seriously, foreign governments are growing increasingly concerned about the health of their citizens under ICE custody. Mexico is already in contact with six Mexican women who may have been subject to this type of procedure. On September 21st, Mexico’s President Andrés Manuel López Obrador further stated that his government could take legal action against the US if the allegations were confirmed. The unacceptable inhuman treatment of these women has sparked global outrage and distress. However, one can only hope that Wooten’s courage to come forward will ensure that the disrespect of such basic human rights is no longer to be tolerated.