WASHINGTON, D.C. -- United States Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) today sent a letter to the US Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General requesting an immediate investigation into complaints by a whistleblower alleging horrific mistreatment of immigrant detainees under U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody at the Irwin County Detention Center in Ocilla, Georgia. The letter also urges the inspector general to investigate DHS leadership’s knowledge of these allegations and look into whether further instances of alleged mistreatment have occurred at other detention centers throughout the country.

Yesterday, several legal advocacy groups filed a whistleblower complaint on behalf of Dawn Wooten, a nurse employed at the Irwin County Detention Center. The complaint includes allegations of “medical neglect . . . including the refusal to test detained immigrants for COVID-19 who have been exposed to the virus and are symptomatic, shredding of medical requests submitted by detained immigrants, and fabricating medical records.” Alarmingly, the complaint also raises serious concerns “regarding the rate at which hysterectomies are performed on immigrant women” at the Irwin County Detention Center.

Additionally, when one immigrant detainee spoke to five different women at the facility, they discovered that all five women had hysterectomies and were given multiple different answers as to why the procedure was needed. One immigrant in the complaint even states that she was not properly anesthetized and heard the doctor admit that he mistakenly removed the wrong ovary, resulting in her inability to have children.

“This whistleblower complaint is stunning and, if true, paints a disturbing picture at the Irwin County Detention Center,” Booker wrote in the letter. “Given the serious nature of the complaint, I urge your office to immediately conduct a thorough in-person investigation of the Irwin County Detention Center—including in-person interviews with relevant witnesses following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention COVID-19 guidance—and to further investigate DHS leaderships’ knowledge of the allegations as well as their possible involvement in the abuses. Furthermore, I urge you to commence an investigation into whether the alleged complaints at the Irwin County Detention Center have occurred at other detention centers throughout the country.”

These allegations further highlight the need for Senator Booker and Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal’s (D-WA) Federal Immigrant Release for Safety and Security Together (FIRST) Act, introduced in April, which would move immigrants out of detention and halt immigration enforcement against people not deemed a significant public safety risk during the coronavirus public health emergency and future health emergencies.

The full letter can be viewed below and downloaded here.

Dear Inspector General Cuffari:

I am writing to you regarding a horrific whistleblower complaint out of the Irwin County Detention Center detailing how the health and safety of immigrant detainees under U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody are being jeopardized. Specifically, these reports range from detainees not being given COVID-19 tests to female detainees being subject to hysterectomies at alarming rates.[1] I urge you to immediately investigate the allegations contained within the complaint and conduct a wider investigation of Department of Homeland Security (DHS) leadership to ascertain their knowledge and involvement in the alleged wrongdoing.

Yesterday, on Monday, September 14, 2020, several legal advocacy groups filed a whistleblower complaint on behalf of Dawn Wooten, a nurse employed at the Irwin County Detention Center. The complaint alleges, among other things, “medical neglect . . . including the refusal to test detained immigrants for COVID-19 who have been exposed to the virus and are symptomatic, shredding of medical requests submitted by detained immigrants, and fabricating medical records.” Alarmingly, the complaint also raises serious concerns “regarding the rate at which hysterectomies are performed on immigrant women” at the Irwin County Detention Center.

One immigrant detainee spoke to five different women at the facility who had hysterectomies between October 2019 and December 2019. The complaint further alleges that the women were confused as to why they needed the medical procedure. Ms. Wooten also confirmed that many of the women who received hysterectomies did not understand why the surgery was necessary. The whistleblower complaint notes how immigrant women were often given multiple different answers on why they needed the procedure and how non-Spanish speaking nurses obtained consent from the detainees “by simply googling Spanish.” One immigrant in the complaint said that she was not properly anesthetized and heard the doctor admit that he mistakenly removed the wrong ovary, resulting in her inability to have children.

This whistleblower complaint is stunning and, if true, paints a disturbing picture at the Irwin County Detention Center. In a written statement, ICE has said that it “takes all allegations seriously and defers to OIG regarding any potential investigation and/or results.”[3] Given the serious nature of the complaint, I urge your office to immediately conduct a thorough in-person investigation of the Irwin County Detention Center—including in-person interviews with relevant witnesses following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention COVID-19 guidance—and to further investigate DHS leaderships’ knowledge of the allegations as well as their possible involvement in the abuses. Furthermore, I urge you to commence an investigation into whether the alleged complaints at the Irwin County Detention Center have occurred at other detention centers throughout the country.

I appreciate your prompt attention to this matter.