WASHINGTON, D.C. - The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) is stunned and deeply disturbed by allegations of human rights abuses and medical neglect inflicted on women in federal immigration custody, including forced hysterectomies, detailed this week in a whistleblower complaint.
The allegations stem from a nurse who came forward this week with a whistleblower complaint of human rights abuses perpetrated against immigrant women detained at the Irwin County Detention Center (ICDC) in Georgia.
We support the whistleblower’s courageous decision to make her observations public and demand an immediate investigation. If validated, such treatment at the hands of a private prison under contract with Immigration and Custom Service (ICE) would be an atrocious disregard for the safety and human rights of vulnerable women entering this country seeking safety from economic, political and physical danger.
The basis of the accusation against ICE and the private contractor is that they knowingly allowed a physician to perform—sometimes forcibly —a disproportionate number of hysterectomies on immigrant female detainees. Often the women were given no choice or even an explanation of why these sterilization procedures were taking place. On at least one occasion a detainee of childbearing age was allegedly sterilized based on an erroneous cancer diagnosis. This report conjures up a dark history of sterilization and other invasive medical procedures forced upon women of color against their will and without informed consent.
Questions raised about the ICDC prior to this complaint indicate that these are not an isolated incident and suggest potential negligent oversight of medical and related services in other ICE detention facilities, especially those operated by private contractors. NASW insists upon a thorough investigation of the accusations against the ICDC and the immediate closure of this facility if they are true, as well as accountability for any and all wrongdoers. NASW also calls for a comprehensive evaluation of adherence to basic and humane medical policies, procedures and protocols in all ICE facilities.
On Tuesday, a group of 168 members of Congress sent a letter urging Department of Homeland Security Inspector General Joseph Cuffari to investigate the allegations of mass hysterectomies. They are demanding an urgent response and a briefing on the status of the investigation by Sept. 25.
Policymakers must take additional steps to drastically reduce the scope of immigration detention, establish robust oversight and safeguards for medical care, and end state-sanctioned sterilization and reproductive coercion. NASW will continue to demand accountability from ICE and elected officials for the humane treatment of all adults and children seeking safe haven in this country.