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After Reports of Forced Sterilization Among Women Detained by ICE, Pingree Calls for Full OIG Investigation

Washington, September 16, 2020

Following a September 14 report of appalling conditions at the Irwin County Detention Center in Georgia, including mass hysterectomies performed on migrant women, Congresswoman Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) today joined 173 House members in calling for an immediate investigation of Immigration and Customs Enforcement by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG). The lawmakers’ letter is available online here and at the end of this press release.

“Forced sterilization is a horrifying human rights violation with a disturbing past that is closely linked with white supremacy and genocide. We need a full investigation now. If these reports are true, ICE must be held accountable for this shockingly inhumane treatment of those who’ve come to America in search of a better life,” said Pingree in a statement.

The concerns raised by a whistleblower Dawn Wooten outlined the high rates of hysterectomies performed in the Irwin County Detention Center, which Ms. Wooten compared to an “experimental concentration camp.” Ms. Wooten also said that hysterectomies were that doctor’s “specialty, he’s the uterus collector.” 

At one point in the United States, 32 states had eugenic-sterilization laws on their books, resulting in more than 60,000 people being sterilized. Even more recently, incarcerated individuals were sterilized; nearly 150 incarcerated women in California prisons were sterilized between 2006 and 2010. Forced sterilization is a human rights violation that has historically targeted Black and brown women. 

A full copy of the lawmakers’ letter is available online here and below:

Dear Mr. Cuffari:

We write to express deep concern for the health and welfare of immigrants in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) who are currently detained at the Irwin County Detention Center (ICDC), operated by LaSalle Corrections. We are horrified to see reports of mass hysterectomies performed on detained women in the facility, without their full, informed consent and request that the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) conduct an immediate investigation. We request that your office immediately open an investigation to thoroughly examine allegations raised by whistleblower Dawn Wooten and immigrants detained and formerly detained in the ICDC. 

In the complaint submitted to your office outlining the concerns by Ms. Wooten and numerous immigrants who have spoken to Project South, there is wide concern about the high rates of hysterectomies performed on detained women. One detained immigrant reported that she knew five women who had hysterectomies within a three-month period between October and December, 2019. This woman likened the facility to an “experimental concentration camp” and Nurse Wooten said that hysterectomies were that doctor’s “specialty, he’s the uterus collector.” While Ms. Wooten noted that some of the women who had hysterectomies reported heavy menstruation or other severe issues, the high rates of hysterectomies were seemingly inexplicable and remarkably concerning. 

The complaint also raised questions as to whether there was proper, informed consent by many of the women who had hysterectomies. Ms. Wooten claims that several of the women who had hysterectomies did not know why they even went to the doctor. Further, she reports that the language line was not consistently used by medical staff and some nurses attempted to communicate with the Spanish-speaking detained women using Google or asking other detained immigrants to interpret. One immigrant woman explained her experience receiving three different explanations as to why she was going to have a hysterectomy, and said that she “felt like they were trying to mess with my body.” She reports that a nurse became angry and yelled at her for expressing that she thought the procedure was not appropriate for her. 

These reports hearken back to a dark time in U.S. history in which 32 states passed eugenic-sterilization laws, resulting in the sterilization of between 60 and 70 thousand people in the early 1900s. This practice continued for incarcerated individuals into recent times, as nearly 150 incarcerated women in California prisons were sterilized between 2006 and 2010. In Georgia alone, 3,284 individuals had been sterilized by the end of 1963, as the state was responsible for the fifth highest number of sterilizations in the country. This shameful history of sterilization in the United States, in particular sterilization of people of color and incarcerated people, must never be repeated. Yet, the similarities to the accounts of immigrant women and nurses in the Irwin County Detention Center today are eerily similar.

The reports of mass hysterectomies cause grave concern for the violation of the bodily autonomy and reproductive rights detained people. Everyone, regardless of their immigration status, their language, or their incarceration deserve to control their own reproductive choices, and make informed choices about their bodies. We request an immediate investigation into these reports. We request a response and a briefing on the status of this investigation by Friday, September 25, 2020.

Sincerely,

This press release is available online here.

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