A whistleblower complaint alleging hysterectomies being performed on women from an ICE detention centre recalls the ugly history of forced sterilization in the US

Protesters at the County USC Medical Centre circa 1974 in Los Angeles, California. Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
  • A nurse at a Georgia immigration detention centre accused the facility of sending patients to a doctor who she alleges performed an unusual number of hysterectomies on immigrant detainees, usually without their consent.
  • Dawn Wooten made the allegations in a whistleblower complaint sent by Project South to the Department of Homeland Security and its inspector general.
  • The allegations have re-centered a conversation on the ugly history of forced sterilization in the US.
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A nurse alleged that women had their wombs partially or entirely removed, while detained at an immigration detention facility in Georgia. She filed a whistleblower complaint, largely focused on COVID-19 precautions, sent by Project South to the Department of Homeland Security and its inspector general. The complaint has triggered a conversation around forced sterilization in the US.

Dawn Wooten alleged that migrants detained at the Irwin County Detention Centre were sent to a gynecologist off-site. According to Wooten, some women said they received a surgical procedure to remove reproductive organs either without their consent or without knowing exactly the procedure entailed.

“We’ve questioned among ourselves like goodness he’s taking everybody’s stuff out,” Wooten said, according to the complaint, adding: “That’s his specialty, he’s the uterus collector. I know that’s ugly … is he collecting these things or something … Everybody he sees, he’s taking all their uteruses out or he’s taken their tubes out. What in the world.”

On Tuesday, lawyers for women who reported having the procedure done identified the doctor at the centre of the allegations as Mahendra Amin who practices Douglas, Georgia.

Amin told The Intercept that he only performed “one or two hysterectomies in the past two [or] three years.” However, he didn’t answer whether those procedures were performed on those detained at Irwin. ICE has said it is investigating the claims.

Natalia Molina, a professor of American Studies and Ethnicity at the University of Southern California, told CNN that there’s a “shameful legacy” of people, especially people of colour having operations performed without their knowledge by the orders of officials.

“The story gained so much traction immediately with people, because there’s such a long history affecting many different racial and ethnic groups, across many institutions — mental health hospitals, public hospitals, prisons,” she told CNN about the new ICE allegations.

Alexandra Minna Stern, a professor and associate dean at the University of Michigan, told CNN that the recent allegations could be apart of a long history that dates back to 1907 when Indiana passed the first eugenics sterilization law. More than 30 states would follow suit.

Eugenics is the belief that certain people should not reproduce because they have undesirable traits. PBS reported that designation was used to forcibly sterilise immigrants, people of colour, poor people, unmarried mothers, the disabled, and the mentally ill.

The eugenic laws in the US even became models for the Nazis in Germany.

In 2019, NPR reported that more than 70,000 Americans, mainly women, were forcibly sterilized as part of states’ eugenics programs, which were reinforced in 1927 by a US Supreme Court decision.

CNN reported that most of the state laws were repealed in the 1970s.

However, according to PBS, even as late as between 2006 and 2010, 150 female inmates in California prisons were sterilized.

Lawmakers have now demanded an investigation into the whistleblower’s claims and said the testimony hearkens back “to a dark time in US history,” in a Sept. 15 letter to the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general.

They noted that one detained immigrant described the facility as an “experimental concentration camp.”

“This shameful history of sterilization in the United States, in particular sterilization of people of colour and incarcerated people, must never be repeated,” the letter states. “Yet, the similarities to the accounts of immigrant women and nurses in the Irwin County Detention Centre today are eerily similar.”