US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi has called for an investigation into claims that detainees at a immigration detention facility were given improper hysterectomies and other gynaecological 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. The claim was filed by advocacy groups Project South and the Government Accountability Project.
The allegations caused an outcry among Democratic lawmakers, including Ms Pelosi.
“If true, the appalling conditions described in the whistleblower complaint – including allegations of mass hysterectomies being performed on vulnerable immigrant women – are a staggering abuse of human rights,” Ms Pelosi said in a statement.
“The DHS [Department of Homeland Security] inspector general must immediately investigate the allegations detailed in this complaint.”
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) denied the allegations. Dr. Ada Rivera, the medical director of the ICE Health Service Corps, said that, since 2018, only two individuals at the Irwin centre 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 centre.
Ms Wooten said that women who complained of heavy periods or asked for birth control would be sent to outside gynaecologists 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.
Lawyers representing detainees at Irwin said several women had complained about gynaecological treatment by an outside provider to the facility.
Sarah Owings, a Georgia-based immigration attorney, told Reuters she and other lawyers were collecting information about hysterectomies performed on detainees. She had no evidence to suggest these surgeries were widespread, she said.
“I do think there’s a situation in which healthcare is not up to par in these places and that there is absolutely room to have lack of oversight,” she said.
Elizabeth Matherne, another immigration attorney in Georgia, recalled complaining to detention centre officials about treatment her clients said they were receiving from an outside gynaecologist.
ICE said in its statement “a medical procedure like a hysterectomy would never be performed against a detainee’s will.”
With additional reporting by Reuters.
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