To Members of Congress, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement:
We are appalled and heartbroken by the reports of forced hysterectomies and medical neglect that occured at the Irwin Detention Center in Georgia. Even more troubling is the evidence that this is not an isolated incident, but a continuation of a broken and abusive system. Just last March, Cameroonian women in detention protested severe medical neglect and mistreatment.
This is why we are demanding that ICE immediately shut down the Irwin County Detention Center and that Congress hold ICE and CBP accountable for continuing human rights abuses by cutting funding to ICE and CBP in the 2021 budget.
In the past few years, there have been over 400 allegations of sexual assault or abuse, inadequate medical care, regular hunger strikes, and frequent use of solitary confinement. There have been more than 800 instances of physical force against detainees, nearly 20,000 grievances filed by detainees, and at least 29 fatalities, including seven suicides.
And we are all familiar with the terrible stories of children being kept in cages, torn from their parents in a program – set up by Trump and his administration as a “deterrent” to stop families escaping terrible violence from coming across the border seeking sanctuary – intended to traumatize families.
Now, a whistleblower – a nurse, Black woman, and mom of five named Dawn Wooten working at the Irwin County Detention Center in Georgia, which is operated by LaSalle Corrections, a private prison company – has spoken up about the abuses there. She said it was “like an experimental concentration camp.” The women who were undergoing the invasive (and often unnecessary) procedure were often not told clearly, in their native language, why the procedure was necessary. One even said she was not properly anesthetized during it.
There is a long history in the U.S. of cruelty against those who need our protection the most, and controlling women’s bodies is a recurring systemic tactic of white supremacy. Enslaved African people were sterilized against their will in medical experiments, and hospitals around the country sterilized women of color and poor women well into the 20th century. This includes the forcible sterilizations of Native Women by the U.S. Indian Health Service, Mexican women in Los Angeles in the late 60’s and 70s, and as many as 1 in 3 mothers in Puerto Rico who were sterilized without consent after giving birth in hospitals. Incarcerated and disabled people have also been forcibly sterilized at different points in U.S. history.
Now ICE is continuing this legacy. And this is just the latest in a string of horrifying abuse by ICE. This federal agency, funded by U.S. taxpayers, has established a clear pattern of sexual abuse and medical neglect. This is not an isolated incident but rather one of many stories of abuse coming from within ICE detention centers across the country. These centers have become nothing but a breeding ground for violence and abuse.
The time to hold ICE accountable is now. The Irwin Detention Center must be shut down, and Congress must cut funding to ICE and CPB. We cannot reward continual human rights abuses against Black and Brown communities. We will not stand by as history repeats itself. It is through our collective power that we will be able to hold immigration officials accountable and build a society free of ICE’s cruel practices, where families will no longer be separated and migrants are treated with dignity and respect.