U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has a long, documented, and disturbing track record of medical neglect, human rights violations, and deaths in detention. For years, ICE has systemically failed to provide proper medical care and oversight in detention facilities. If confirmed, the allegations of involuntary hysterectomies at Irwin County Detention Center in Georgia represent egregious and unconscionable violations against the health, rights, autonomy, and dignity of immigrant women, and are a form of sexual violence.
Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) calls for an immediate, thorough, and independent investigation into the allegations, accountability for perpetrators, and justice for the survivors. These cases should be investigated by independent medical experts, not only the Department of Homeland Security Office of the Inspector General, to ensure full accountability. The independent medical experts should be given full access to ICE facilities, detained and affected people, and all relevant records to investigate these allegations. If these allegations are verified, a criminal investigation could also be warranted.
Structural racism and exploitation have led to – and still lead to – unnecessary or involuntary hysterectomies among many women, especially among Black, immigrant, rural, low-income, and other communities. Reproductive injustice has an extremely long, harmful history in the United States, having been weaponized systematically against Black, Native American, Latinx, and incarcerated women, as well as people with disabilities, among others.
For many years, ICE has shown that it does not and cannot offer adequate and safe conditions of confinement. To prevent future violations and further life-threatening spread of COVID-19 in detention, ICE should release people on urgent public health and humanitarian grounds now, as PHR has advocated for months. Congress should fund alternatives to detention, which are more humane, safe, rights-based, and effective in ensuring compliance with immigration proceedings.
PHR thanks and applauds Dawn Wooten, the nurse who worked full time at the Irwin County Detention Center, and who took the courageous step of becoming a whistleblower. She has lost her job and risked her health, which is not an acceptable price to pay for doing the right thing. As a whistleblower, Wooten should have been protected when submitting internal complaints. Staff and detained people should have been provided with proper personal protective equipment and other COVID-19 protections, as her complaint highlights the dire lack of COVID-19 safety measures in the facility. Reproductive justice and a humane immigration system should not require the bravery, selflessness, and sacrifice of whistleblowers like Wooten.
Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to prevent mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.