By Mimi Dwyer and Mica Rosenberg
LOS ANGELES/NEW YORK – U.S. immigration officials said on Tuesday a federal watchdog would investigate complaints made by a whistleblower nurse in a Georgia immigration detention facility who alleged detainees had improperly received hysterectomies and other gynecological procedures.
The allegations were made by Dawn Wooten, a former nurse at the Irwin County Detention Center (ICDC), in a complaint filed to the watchdog, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General, on Monday by advocacy groups Project South and the Government Accountability Project.
Reuters interviewed Wooten but could not independently confirm the claims of improper hysterectomies, or surgery to remove the uterus.
The allegations caused an outcry among Democratic lawmakers including U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi and U.S. Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) denied the allegations. Dr. Ada Rivera, the medical director of the ICE Health Service Corps, said in a statement that since 2018, only two individuals at the Irwin center in Georgia were referred for hysterectomies based on recommendations by specialists that “were reviewed by the facility clinical authority and approved.”
LaSalle Corrections, the private contractor that runs the facility, said in a statement that it “strongly refutes these allegations and any implications of misconduct” at the Irwin center.
Wooten told Reuters on Monday that women who complained of heavy periods or asked for birth control would be sent to outside gynecologists and sometimes receive hysterectomies but that many did not fully understand what medical procedures were being ordered.
“A lot of them said that they didn’t understand what was being done to them. Nobody explained it to them,” she said.
Attorneys representing detainees at Irwin told Reuters several women had complained about gynecological treatment by an outside provider to the facility.
ICE said in its statement “a medical procedure like a hysterectomy would never be performed against a detainee’s will.”
(Reporting by Mimi Dwyer in Los Angeles and Mica Rosenberg in New York, additional reporting by Kristina Cooke in Los Angeles, editing by Ross Colvin and Timothy Gardner)