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Whistleblower Complaint Alleges A High Number Of Hysterectomies At ICE Facility

Sep 16, 2020
Originally published on September 16, 2020 5:53 pm
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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

A whistleblower complaint filed this week alleges that immigrant detainees at a privately operated detention facility in Georgia were subjected to hysterectomies at an alarmingly high rate. The complaint was filed by the human rights group Project South and alleges that these procedures were done without informed consent from the women. Jose Olivares, an associate producer on The Takeaway for WNYC, coauthored this story for The Intercept, and he joins us now.

Welcome.

JOSE OLIVARES, BYLINE: Thanks so much for having me.

CHANG: So how many women were actually affected by this according to your reporting? Can you describe what exactly happened to them?

OLIVARES: Sure. So the details are still a little bit unclear. But according to one woman that we spoke with - estimated that as many as 20 others were recommended for an operation by this gynecologist. And according to an interview that we conducted with the whistleblower, Dawn Wooten, she estimated that more than 20 women had under undergone hysterectomies in the last six years.

Now, what we've also found out today is that Rep. Jayapal from Washington state has spoken with a number of attorneys who have disclosed to her that at least 17 immigrant women in Irwin were subject to these hysterectomies by a gynecologist while in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

CHANG: And you had a chance to speak with at least one of the gynecologists who allegedly performed hysterectomies as well as other procedures and exams without informed consent. What was this gynecologist's explanation for all of this?

OLIVARES: So the whistleblower complaints did not name or identify the gynecologist in question. But we spoke with advocates and a former detention employee and immigrants themselves who disclosed the identity and pointed us in the direction of who this gynecologist was. And when I spoke with this doctor, they vehemently denied the allegations. They said that they only performed a couple of hysterectomies in the past couple of years, that these allegations were ruining their practice.

However, they did note that if this doctor makes a diagnosis and needs to perform a certain procedure, they have to get approval and permission from the facility to carry out this procedure. My colleague John Washington and myself, when we reached out to ICE, they vehemently denied the allegations.

CHANG: Well, I understand that this whistleblower complaint contains other disturbing allegations that haven't been reported on as much as these alleged hysterectomies. Can you talk about those other allegations?

OLIVARES: Absolutely. I think there was a lot of shocking information that this whistleblower put forward regarding the failure by management and by facility staff to protect detainees and staff from contracting COVID. Now, when this whistleblower began speaking up internally, they ended up demoting her. You know, she sees that as being retaliation for speaking out internally. But some of the things that management was doing is they were not necessarily adhering to the CDC guidelines of social distancing. They did not provide masks to detainees in the facility. In fact, the detainees had to make their own masks out of bed sheets and clothing while in the facility. And they weren't able to access masks until a local church group ending up donating them to the facility.

CHANG: Well, as you say, this has gotten the attention of lawmakers. What do you expect to be happening next on this story?

OLIVARES: Well, because this story is so explosive and because these allegations are so big, advocates are really pushing for an investigation into whether the hysterectomies have taken place at such a high rate. But also, they're calling for an investigation into the treatment of detainees and staff amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

When we reached out to ICE and to the private prison company of LaSalle Corrections, they refused to speak with us or give us a statement, saying that they could not comment because the Office of Inspector General under the Department of Homeland Security was already investigating the whistleblower claims. So it's really difficult to tell if the Office of Inspector General is indeed investigating these allegations and what step of the process they are.

CHANG: That is Jose Olivares from member station WNYC. He co-authored this report for The Intercept alongside John Washington.

Thank you very much for joining us today.

OLIVARES: Thank you so much - really appreciate it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.