It might seem straight out of a dystopian novel that in 2020, immigrant women are having their reproductive organs removed without their consent. The U.S. has a long, dark history of allegedly inflicting forced operations and abuse in jails, prisons and detention facilities. As unlikely as it seems, evidence points to the truthfulness of this claims.

US Immigration Detention Georgia
Dawn Wooten, left; a nurse at Irwin County Detention Center in Georgia listens to a speaker at a Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020 news conference in Atlanta protesting conditions at the immigration jail. (AP Photo/Jeff Amy)

Dawn Wooten is a licensed practical nurse formerly employed at the Irwin County detention facility in Ocila, Georgia. On Monday September 14th, 2020 Dawn Wooten claimed that an alarmingly high rate of Spanish-speaking women in said detention facility, were being coerced into hysterectomies without them understanding nor giving consent.

A hysterectomy is a surgery to remove a woman’s uterus or womb. In some cases, women undergo such medical procedures because of pelvic inflammatory diseases, painful periods or personal choice; regardless of the reason, the patient must always provide rational consent.

Several advocacy and criminal justice organization have already jumped on the case. The initial complaint was filed by the Government Accountability Project and Project South. They are formally accusing the detention center of negligence, unsanitary conditions, poor safety precautions with regards to Covid-19 and lastly, coercing women into major surgery without their consent.

Project South is specifically collecting testimonies and stories from the victims. Every testimony has one thing in common; they all claim that Dr. Mahendra Amin conducted such procedures without proper explanation or consent. The victims express to have felt as if the medical staff were to be “experimenting with their bodies.” In addition, according to an interview with the Intercept, the immigrants who spoke out against these practices and/or poor living conditions were regularly pushed into solitary confinement.

This is not the first-time allegations of abuse have been filed against Irwin County’s detention facility. Back in 2017, Project South filed a report for poor treatment of detainees, inedible food and refusing medical care. The conditions at this detention facility have become inhumane and are only worsening now in the face of the pandemic. The facility has time after time refused to test detained immigrants, concealed numbers of positive Covid-19 tests and mixed those who have been exposed to the virus to those who have not.

Attorneys at Project South are planning on filing such documents to Congress as well as to the United Nations. The UN defines “imposing measures intended to prevent births within a group” as an act of genocide, a crime under international law. Several advocates are calling for litigation to be pushed and the United States to be accountable under an International Court given the seriousness of this case and the fact that there are several other detention facilities conducting the same illegal practices.

However, this is not the first-time complaints on abuse and inhumane living conditions at detention facilities have been filed, the allegations raised by Dawn Wooten are similar to those surfacing all around the country from immigrants held at ICE facilities.

A Supreme Court ruling in the late 1970’s stated that doctors had to fully inform their patients of their rights and brief them on the specifics of the procedures being conducted. And while forced sterilizations are now illegal, it is most common for people who are incarcerated or detained, like women at ICE camps, to be coerced into hysterectomies. Between 1997 and 2010, approximately 1400 women in California prisons were given unwanted sterilizations. More recently, in 2017 a Tennessee judge told convicted women that he would cut down their jail time if they volunteered to have surgeries that would stop them from procreating.

There has been no concrete domestic response, neither the state nor federal governments have issued an official response or course of action. An ICE spokeswoman just issued a statement claiming that the Agency takes allegations seriously; however, no action has been taken. Politicians like Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) and Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) are calling for a congressional investigation into the issue of coercive hysterectomies.

The question still remains whether domestic legal action would be enough or if international litigation could more effectively provide supervision and an end to these crimes against humanity.

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Michelle Parra is a rising senior at Penn State pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science with a minor in Global Security and a Legal Studies certificate. She is particularly passionate about domestic and international politics and how they interact with the legal field. She has acquired extensive experience with public policy analysis, research design as well as legal research and writing given her last experience as an intern at the Erie County Courthouse. After completing her undergraduate studies at Penn State, Michelle is seeking to hold a position as a political analyst and later attend Law School.

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