Sterilization of Migrant Women in U.S. Detention Centers Causes Outrage

By David Brooks, September 18, 2020

Illustration: John Holcroft

An accusation of large numbers of hysterectomies done without consent of the women in an immigrant detention center exploded at the beginning of this week.  This and other reports of medical abuse were the latest in a series of accusations included in the demand made by more than 170 legislators for an investigation of the violations and abuses of human and civil rights set in motion by the anti-immigrant policies of Donald Trump.

The first accusations that migrant women were forced to undergo gynecological surgery without their consent were brought to light by a complaint made by a nurse in Irwin Detention Center in Georgia, a private prison run by LaSalle corrections under contract with ICE. (Immigrations and Customs Enforcement.)  The nurse, Dawn Wooten, revealed that a number of women had told her that a doctor, called “the Uterus Collector,” had removed their uterus or performed other gynecological surgery without their consent.  This complaint was backed up by the statements of a number of migrant women interviewed and are represented in this case by Project South as well as the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights , the South Georgia Immigrant Support Network and the Georgia Detention Watch.

At this time we know of the existence of between five and 17 cases at this detention center.  A migrant woman who is a witness to this, described the facility as “an experimental concentration camp.”

Some 173 federal legislators sent a letter to the Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security demanding an immediate investigation of the complaints with a first report on September 25.  “We are horrified to see reports of mass hysterectomies performed on detained women in the facility, without their full, informed consent”they said,  and requested that “the Office of Inspector General (OIG) conduct an immediate investigation.”  They added that these reports evoke great concern about violations of body autonomy and reproductive rights of detainees.

On Wednesday of this week, the immigration authorities tried to deport one of the victims , Pauline Binam, from Cameroon, who has lived in the U.S. since the age of 2 and is the mother of a child who is a U.S. citizen.  She was already on an airplane in Chicago when she was rescued thanks to the intervention of legislators Sheila Jackson Lee and Pramila Jayapal, who want her to be able to testify before Congress.

Spokesmen for ICE questioned the “anonymous and unsubstantiated charges” of the nurse and other accusers.  Chad Wolf, acting secretary of  Homeland Security, failed to appear before a House of Representatives committee where he was to have been questioned about this matter.

In fact, at the beginning of the 20th Century “eugenics” laws were passed in 32 states of the US, causing the sterilization of more than 60,000 women who were categorized as “mentally retarded” or “mentally defective.” This served as a model for the Nazis in Germany.  However there are even more recent cases, such as the over 150 women in California prisons who were sterilized between 2006 and 2010.

The revelation this week evoked condemnation from organizations concerned with human rights and defense of migrants.  “We are  deeply alarmed by reports of detainees subjected to forced hysterectomies and other invasive procedures in an ICE prison managed by a private company,” declared Amnesty International US.  “I am weeping with frustration… What more do they have to do to our migrant community to get people to react, to see our humanity  What else?” asked Erika Andiola of RAICES, an organization defending migrant rights.

“If this ICE sterilization allegation is true this country has gone full eugenicist — again. And returned to the most monstrous practices of the white supremacist right,” said Jelani Cobb, African-American journalist for the New Yorker.

These actions come on top of innumerable denunciations of mistreatment of migrants under the Trump government, ranging from forced separation of families, placing children in cages and hotels converted into processing centers to process and expedite unregulated deportation of children and families, the lack of protective equipment and conditions that have caused the spread of COVID-19, cancelation of the right of asylum, paramilitary-style roundups, and complaints of sexual abuse by guards, among other things.

Referring to a regulation invented in March using COVID-19 as an excuse, more than 8800 unaccompanied minors and 7800 families are part of the total of 159,000 people deported without the opportunity to present their cases, CBS News reports.  On September 16, as a gift to Mexico, the the U.S. authorities sent a river of deported people across the bridge from El Paso Texas in the U.S. to Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico, reported Alfredo Corchado of Dallas Morning News.

“The systematic, ongoing dehumanization of immigrants by the President and his henchmen has created the climate in which serious human rights abuses happen. …it is an entire system that views immigrants as less than human, “ stated Douglas Rivlin of America’s Voice in Washington.

Source: La Jornada, translation Resumen Latinoamericano, North America bureau