Atlanta, Sep 16 (efe-epa).- At least 17 women were subjected to unnecessary surgeries, including hysterectomies, at a migrant detention center in Georgia, a US congresswoman claimed on Wednesday, calling – along with 172 fellow lawmakers – for an official investigation into these cases.
Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, a Democrat from Washington state, said in a statement to the press that she received the information from three attorneys who represented the women, who were being held at the Irwin County Detention Center in the Georgia town of Ocilla and were forced to undergo “unnecessary medical gynecological procedures … often without appropriate consent or knowledge, and with the clear intention of sterilization.”
The lawmaker’s complaint comes after several civil rights defense organizations on Monday filed a complaint with the Department of Homeland Security’s Inspector General’s Office based on the testimony of Dawn Wooten, a nurse who worked in that detention center for undocumented migrants.
Wooten said that a series of “dangerous practices” had occurred at the Irwen center, including surgically removing the uteruses of several women.
“Since the initial story broke, I understand that there are at least five independent attorneys representing women who have found themselves to be part of this horrific pattern, subjected to unnecessary forced sterilization or medical procedures over the last several years,” said the congresswoman.
On Wednesday, Jayapal and fellow lawmakers Jerrold Nadler, Judy Chu and Zoe Lofgren headed a request by a total of 173 legislators urging the DHS Inspector General’s Office to immediately open an investigation into the complaints of unauthorized hysterectomies.
“I am horrified and outraged to hear these stories, which contain many consistencies and raise serious questions about not only (one) particular doctor but about the entire detention system – largely for-profit – that is complicit in the abuses of rights and has long run roughshod over and ignored … (and) neglected the health, wellbeing and human rights of immigrants,” said Jayapal in her statement, and these sentiments were echoed by the legislators in their joint letter.
Jayapal and the other lawmakers called for “an immediate and full Congressional investigation to get to the bottom of this situation.”
US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), meanwhile, on Wednesday announced that it will open an independent probe into the hysterectomy complaints by women being detained at the Irwin center.
ICE, however, “vehemently” disputed the implication that detainees may have been used for experimental medical procedures, according to Dr. Ada Rivera, the medical director of the ICE Health Service Corps, adding that the surgeries had been approved by ICE officials.
“To be clear, medical care decisions concerning detainees are made by medical personnel, not by law enforcement personnel,” Rivera said in a statement. “Detainees are afforded informed consent, and a medical procedure like a hysterectomy would never be performed against a detainee’s will.”
Rivera said that since 2018 “only two people” at the Irwin Detention Center underwent hysterectomy surgery at OBGYN centers, and those surgeries conformed to the proper medical standards.
She said that the medical professionals consulted on the two women’s cases recommended hysterectomies and those recommendations were reviewed by the Irwin center’s medical authorities and approved.
Azadeh Shahshahani, the legal director for Project South, one of the organizations that presented the complaint to DHS, said she was happy that Congress has become involved in this situation.
The Irwin County Detention Center is operated by the private firm LaSalle Corrections.
Shahshahani told EFE that her organization could not verify the veracity of the number of women involved – ostensibly 17 or 18, according to Jayapal – but they believe that more people will come forward to provide further information about the matter.
Gynecologist Jennifer Conti, a professor at Stanford University’s Medical School, said that complaints about surgical procedures such as these should be taken seriously and investigated thoroughly.
“As a doctor, as a gynecologist who has performed hysterectomies as part of my practice, it would be completely unethical to do these surgeries without the consent of the patients. This would be a violation of their human rights,” Conti told EFE.
The doctor said that fewer and fewer women in the US are undergoing these operations where the uterus is removed due to a medical problem because other treatment options exist that are not necessarily surgical in nature.