Washington, D.C. — In a complaint filed with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General, a nurse at the Irwin County Detention Center, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention facility operated by the private corporation LaSalle Corrections, details gross human rights abuses in the facility. The complaint includes allegations of medical neglect, dangerous practices in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, and startling claims of coerced, mass hysterectomies. Jamille Fields Allsbrook, director of Women’s Health and Rights at the Center for American Progress, released the following statement:
The Trump administration has expanded the scope and cruelty of immigration detention, particularly targeting Latina and Black immigrant women, as part of a political agenda steeped in white supremacy and misogyny. And as the coronavirus pandemic continues to disproportionately harm Black and Latinx communities in the United States, immigration detention facilities have proven incapable of protecting the health of people in detention. Unsafe conditions, lack of testing and medical care, and ongoing transfers between facilities have led to mass outbreaks of COVID-19 in detention and multiple deaths.
Reports of mass hysterectomies and medical neglect in ICE detention are horrifying but sadly not surprising. The United States has a long and sordid history of reproductive coercion and forced sterilization, particularly targeting Black, Latina, and Native American women as well as women with disabilities and incarcerated women. These racist, eugenicist practices are often sanctioned by U.S. law, which to this day allows for the sterilization of anyone deemed “unfit.” Furthermore, abuses of women’s health and rights in immigration detention are nothing new. Detention facilities routinely deny adequate health care and inflict abuse and neglect, from lack of maternal health care to limits on reproductive autonomy to sexual abuse. The Trump administration has gone to great lengths to deny reproductive freedom to people in immigration custody, including rolling back the presumption that pregnant women generally should not be detained and taking steps to deny young women the right to an abortion.
ICE’s abuses of health and human rights in detention must be thoroughly investigated, and any wrongdoers must be swiftly removed from their positions and held accountable. If these egregious practices are found to be true, the facility should be closed immediately and the provider involved should no longer be trusted with people’s health. Additionally, policymakers must take steps such as passing the Dignity for Detained Immigrants Act to drastically reduce the scope of immigration detention, establish robust oversight and safeguards for medical care, and end state-sanctioned sterilization and reproductive coercion. Rather than subjecting Black, Latinx, and Native American women to further harm, it is essential that the federal government mitigate the damage caused by the pandemic by building trust with these communities that historically have been the target of medical abuses in the United States.