The National Health Law Program (NHeLP) is outraged to read reports that immigrant and migrant (im/migrant) women at the Irwin County Detention Center in Georgia have been sterilized without their knowledge or consent—a horrific violation of their fundamental human rights.
The facility is a private prison that contracts with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to incarcerate im/migrant detainees. In a whistleblower complaint filed on September 14, 2020, Dawn Wooten, a Black nurse who worked at Irwin, bravely alleged, among other things, that the facility contracted with a provider who frequently performed hysterectomies on im/migrant women for no medical reason and without their informed consent.
The U.S. has a long and cruel legacy of state-directed sterilizations of Black, Indigenous/Native American, Mexican, Puerto Rican, and Japanese women, and incarcerated people and people with disabilities without their knowledge or consent. This history originates from white supremacist beliefs about which groups of people are considered “worthy” or “unworthy” of reproduction, and has been reinforced through restrictive policies such as the 1875 Page Act, which prevented Asian women from immigrating and starting families in the U.S. Coerced sterilization is a form of eugenics, genocide, and reproductive injustice that plainly violates human rights.
This latest revelation amplifies the horrific conditions that im/migrants continue to endure in immigration detention. ICE facilities have been reported for providing grossly inadequate medical services—particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic—and numerous accounts of inhumane treatment, abuse, and sexual assault. These practices, and the agency that oversees and operates immigration detention facilities, must end—and for that to happen, we must hold those in power accountable. NHeLP supports the swift call by Democratic lawmakers for a federal investigation into the allegations, and encourages Congressional members to promptly hold committee hearings to comprehensively investigate those allegations.
We stand with those harmed by these egregious acts of reproductive violence. We commend and stand in solidarity with Ms. Wooten, a Black woman and hero who courageously put her career and her family on the line by speaking out. We also stand in solidarity with reproductive justice organizations, including the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum, California Latinas for Reproductive Justice, and the Black Mamas Matter Alliance, who have long called out historic and modern day practices of reproductive oppression. NHeLP joins these and other allied organizations in their calls to hold the ICE officials and contractors accountable, and to end the mass incarceration, neglect, and abuse of im/migrants in ICE facilities.
May we all follow Ms. Wooten’s example and rise up to end racial, gender, and economic injustice wherever we encounter it—and whatever the cost.