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USA: Nurse Alleges Forced Sterilizations, Medical Malpractice At Immigrant Detention Center

Forced Sterilization Is Nothing New to Criminalized People in the US

Saturday 19 September 2020, by siawi3


Nurse Alleges Forced Sterilizations, Medical Malpractice At Immigrant Detention Center

By Niles Niemuth, WSWS.

September 17, 2020

Photo: Detention facility in McAllen, Texas, Sunday, June 17, 2018. US Customs and Border Protection.

“I thought this was like an experimental concentration camp.”

A whistleblower complaint filed on behalf of a nurse who worked at an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention center in southern Georgia until July alleges that a number of immigrant women detained there were subjected to sterilization through hysterectomies without their consent.

In the complaint, filed by the legal advocacy group Project South, the former nurse describes conditions at the center as akin to an “experimental concentration camp.”

The complaint also details the refusal of the center’s administrators to carry out COVID-19 testing or implement protective measures, putting detainees and employees throughout the country’s network of detention centers at risk of infection. It alleges that detainees who have spoken out about conditions at the facility have been placed in solitary confinement.

The chilling report provides further evidence of the sadistic abuse meted out by the Trump administration in its fascistic war on immigrants. At least 17 people have died so far this year in ICE custody from various causes, including COVID-19. Two guards at a facility in Louisiana died from coronavirus in April.

The target of the of the complaint, the Irwin County Detention Center (ICDC), which is operated by the private prison company LaSalle Corrections, was previously the subject of complaints raised by the American Civil Liberties Union in 2012. The ACLU urged that the facility be closed due to widespread abuse as well as its remote location. A 2017 Project South investigation found that ICDC was guilty of human rights abuses, violations of due process rights and unsanitary living conditions.

The nurse who lodged the latest complaint, Dawn Wooten, explained that detained women were sent to a doctor known as the “uterus collector” and that many did not have a full understanding of what was happening to them or why they were having the procedure. “When I met all these women who had had surgeries, I thought this was like an experimental concentration camp,” Wooten said. “It was like they’re experimenting with our bodies.”

While the extent of the sterilizations is unknown, a detained immigrant told Project South that she knew of five women who had hysterectomies while held at ICDC between October and December 2019.

“Everybody he sees has a hysterectomy—just about everybody,” Wooten said of the doctor who carried out the procedures at ICDC.

“He’s even taken out the wrong ovary on a young lady,” Wooten said. “She was supposed to get her left ovary removed because it had a cyst on the left ovary; he took out the right one. She was upset. She had to go back to take out the left and she wound up with a total hysterectomy. She still wanted children, so she has to go back home now and tell her husband that she can’t bear kids… she said she was not all the way out under anesthesia and heard him [the doctor] tell the nurse that he took the wrong ovary.”

Wooten also noted there is often an issue with obtaining consent, as medical staff rely on googling Spanish phrases or getting other detainees to interpret information about the medical procedure. “These immigrant women, I don’t think they really, totally, all the way understand this is what’s going to happen, depending on who explains it to them,” Wooten said.

One detainee who spoke to Project South reviewed her harrowing experience with a sterilization procedure that was stopped at the hospital only when an antibody test for COVID-19 came back positive and she was sent back to the detention center.

A doctor initially told her that she had to go to the hospital to have an ovarian cyst removed in a non-invasive procedure. However, on the day of the procedure, the officer who was transporting her told her that, in fact, she was about to have her womb removed in a hysterectomy. The procedure was scuttled by her positive coronavirus test.

After she had been sent back to ICDC, a nurse told her that she would need to have the procedure done because of heavy bleeding. The nurse then told her it was to correct a thick womb.

The woman explained that she had never been diagnosed with either, and the doctors had spoken of a totally different procedure. The nurse reportedly became angry and began shouting after the woman explained that she did not want a hysterectomy. Reflecting on her experience, the detainee said that it “felt like they were trying to mess with my body.”

The Project South report and Wooten’s testimony reviewed various forms of medical malpractice at the facility, including the withholding of medication for cancer and HIV. Even if inmates were severely ill, the medical unit would only supply them with ibuprofen and send them back to their cells.

Wooten reports that ICDC repeatedly ignored Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines on handling COVID-19 positive patients so as to prevent the spread of the virus.

A video of ICDC inmates pleading for protection which was posted online in April forced the administration to provide them with a single cloth or paper mask, but nothing since. The New York Times reported that detainees resorted to fashioning makeshift masks out of scraps of cloth or broken meal containers in an effort to protect themselves.

ICE reported in August that 41 detainees at the facility had tested positive for the coronavirus, but Wooten said the actual number was certainly higher, since ICDC was not actively testing inmates, denied tests to those who requested them, and was not reporting all its positive cases to ICE or the State Department. She also noted that detainees who were COVID-19 positive were still being transferred to other facilities or deported, and new arrivals were not being properly quarantined, ensuring that the virus would continue to spread. Employees who self-reported coronavirus symptoms were still made to work, and at least 13 officers at the facility have tested positive.

The horrors exposed by Wooten come amidst an escalating assault on the rights of immigrants in the lead-up to the Nov. 3 election, as Trumps works to build up his far-right base. On Monday, a federal appeals court panel approved the Trump administration’s termination of protected status for immigrants from El Salvador, Haiti, Nicaragua and Sudan, removing legal status for nearly 400,000 people, many of whom have lived in the US for decades and have children who are citizens. The 2–1 ruling by the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit opens the immigrants up to deportation if they do not leave the country voluntarily.



Forced Sterilization Is Nothing New to Criminalized People in the US

Photo: A woman holds her baby
A Honduran mother Linda holds her 1-month-old daughter Juana, who was born at a temporary shelter set up in Tabasco, Mexico, during the migrant caravan to the U.S.
Mario Tama / Getty Images

Jenn M. Jackson,

September 16, 2020

The United States has long used citizenship status and perceived criminality as a means to determine whether individuals deserve basic human rights. This week’s egregious allegations of mass hysterectomies at an immigrant jail in Georgia are consistent with the long U.S. tradition of state-sanctioned eugenics, medical abuse and forced sterilizations against those whose humanity the state does not recognize or value.

News reports on Monday revealed that gynecologists in an immigrant jail in Georgia have performed high rates of hysterectomies, often without the full awareness of the immigrant women themselves.

According to a complaint filed by Project South, the revelation came from a whistleblower named Dawn Wooten, a Black woman who was a nurse at Georgia’s Irwin County Detention Center. In the detailed account, Wooten shares not only the pervasive accounts of medical neglect and oversight, but also the ways that immigrant women’s bodies have been infiltrated by the state.

In the report, Wooten explains that incarcerated people would be sent to the doctor for medical procedures, including hysterectomies, and “they don’t know why they went or why they’re going.” Often, these women were not given informed consent as the medical procedures were not explained in their native language. At times, these women experienced intimidation and yelling from nurses pressuring them to follow through with unwanted or unnecessary procedures. In one account, a migrant woman simply came to the conclusion “that something was not right” when incarcerated migrants were being coerced into procedures that weren’t clearly explained or consistently described by medical staff.

These disturbing reports from Georgia are not surprising within the larger context of human rights abuses in the U.S. Since 2016, the conditions facing migrant people interned by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) have been a constant source of unrest and public upheaval. The images often depict dilapidated cells, makeshift bedding, and a lack of basic amenities like clean water and food for people jailed by ICE. While the treatment of migrant people on the border and the disregard for the lives and experiences of incarcerated people in this country has long been an issue, this moment has forced the public to grapple with the disparities in justice and liberty in new and disconcerting ways.

The reported resurgence of forced sterilizations at Georgia’s Irwin County Detention Center — a form of violence rooted in white supremacy, xenophobia, patriarchy and the inherently racist tenets of American citizenship — are an unfortunate recurrence in this nation’s short history. In times of contestation, sexual violence and reproductive injustice frequently become the currency of the state.

A History of Anti-Blackness in Western Medicine

Many people are colloquially familiar with the story of the Tuskegee Experiments on Black men which began in 1932. It was officially called “Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male.” What many people don’t know is that these experiments lasted approximately 40 years even though they were projected for only six months of experimentation. The study originally included roughly 600 Black men mainly from Macon County, Alabama, 201 of whom did not actually have syphilis. The study deceptively enrolled Black men without allowing them informed consent, as researchers told participants that they had “bad blood” and many were never treated at all.

The United States Public Health Service made the decision not to treat poor Black men for syphilis, but rather to watch them “until they died and their bodies examined for ravages of the disease,” according to The Washington Post.

The “study” officially ended in 1972 and has been linked to lower life expectancy among Black men over 45 and a deep distrust between Black communities and Western medicine. The emotional and mental effects of this study remain hidden from popular culture and mainstream news, leaving many Black communities to struggle against these sorts of medical disparities in relative isolation.

Forced Sterilizations in Recent History

Eugenics is often associated with Nazi Germany but, in the early 20th century, the United States adopted these techniques in grand fashion. Our disgusting history with forced sterilizations is linked to a 1927 court decision in Buck v. Bell. The decision gave institutions like prisons and mental facilities the ability to sterilize any person in their custody for any reason deemed necessary to protect the “better interests” of society. Carrie Buck was determined to be “feebleminded” so the state took away her ability to reproduce children. This stemmed decades of state institutions using their authority to forcibly sterilize incarcerated people. It’s estimated that some 70,000 people were sterilized until the 1970s.

But, Buck v. Bell has never been overturned. As late as 2006 to 2010, California prisons have been found to have enforced the coerced sterilizations on at least 150 incarcerated people, according to PBS. As recently as 2017, a judge in central Tennessee offered shorter jail times to incarcerated people if they consented to sterilization. These procedures are used by prison administrators to disproportionately target and harm Black and Brown women, deeming them unfit for reproduction and marking their wombs as sites of waste and decay.

Holding Our History of Hating “Criminals”

The United States’s commitment to eugenics, medical abuse and forced sterilizations depicts the complex nature of perceived criminality in this country. By marking certain people’s bodies as inherently evil, anti-patriotic and outside of the community of citizenship, the state casts a veil over the grave human rights infringements and institutional abuses it enacts against nonwhite, non-wealthy, non-male, non-normative people. This is by design, not by happenstance.

In her 1994 essay, “Not Just (Any) Body Can Be a Citizen,” M. Jacqui Alexander wrote, “criminalization functions as a technology of control, and much like other technologies of control becomes an important site for the production and reproduction of state power.”

Criminalization is the mechanism by which people are transposed from humans into bodies through the eyes of the state. By criminalizing, ostracizing and excluding Black, Brown, queer, trans, immigrant and disabled people, the state sanctions all manner of macabre violence against those they see as merely bodies, organs, and a collection of pieces and parts.

The state is not invested in the humanity of all people but only in the humanity of a chosen few. Until we recognize and hold that truth to be self-evident, we will be powerless in holding these institutions and systems accountable for the injustices they continue to commit right in front of our faces.