Whistleblower Allegations Underscore Detained Immigrants’ Peril

WASHINGTON, D.C. — An immigration detention center nurse has filed a whistleblower complaint detailing negligent management and deliberate underreporting of COVID-19 cases in a Georgia immigration detention facility.

The complaint is the latest in a series of allegations about the peril faced by detainees in immigration detention.

Dawn Wooten, who was employed at the privately run Irwin County Detention Center in Georgia, says that the facility “knowingly placed staff and detainees at risk of contracting the virus, neglected medical complaints, and refused to test symptomatic detainees, among other dangerous practices.”

The complaint also describes an inordinate rate of women at the facility being subjected to hysterectomies, and several women “expressed [to the whistleblower] that they didn’t fully understand why they had to get a hysterectomy.”

The death toll for those in ICE custody in fiscal year 2020, which ends Sept. 30, is already the highest since 2006. Last year, a USA TODAY Network investigation found a nationwide pattern of abuse and neglect — in some instances resulting in death — at facilities overseen by ICE.

“These claims surrounding hysterectomies are horrifying, and they are only one part of it,” said Ali Noorani, President and CEO of the National Immigration Forum. “According to the complaint, there are virtually no COVID precautions at the facility and the level of medical care is basically nonexistent. All of which is incredibly disturbing.”

“This complaint must be investigated and taken seriously. These allegations raise major questions about the government’s ability to keep detainees and staff — and by extension, the communities where these facilities are located — safe. Perhaps even more troublingly, they raise major questions about the willingness to protect basic human dignity.

“The government should be able to run an immigration system that treats all people with dignity and respect, with regard for their safety and humanity. Taxpayers expect nothing less, and if these allegations are true, this is a blatant disregard of American values and the expectations that citizens have of our government.”

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