Investigations Over Unauthorized Hysterectomies in ICE Detention Centers

A whistleblower recently filed a complaint that has triggered Members of Congress and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) into investigating alleged claims of unwanted gynecological procedures on several immigrant women.

A nurse at a privately-run detention center in Georgia claims that immigrant women were undergoing gynecological procedures without fully understanding them. The complaint was filed by Project South, Georgia Detention Watch, Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights, and South Georgia Immigrant Support Network. The complaint stated that the nurse knew of five women who had non-consent hysterectomies within a three-month period that were all conducted by an independent doctor.

Several women detained at the facility complained that their uteruses had been removed. Many of these women remain unidentified for fear of retaliation, but they stated that they did not fully understand the medical treatments that they received. One woman was told that she needed an ovary removed. The surgery required anesthesia, and during the procedure to remove her ovary, her uterus was also removed. When she regained consciousness, she was told that her entire uterus was removed, and she could no longer have children.

The women told the nurse that they were given several different explanations by various people regarding the procedures. Many of the immigrants did not speak or understand English or the explanations. Allegedly, no translators were involved in explaining the procedures or for obtaining consent. The hospital that was accused of conducting these procedures was previously implicated in Medicare and Medicaid fraud claims.

Why are Hysterectomies Performed?

A hysterectomy involves the removal of the uterus and other reproductive organs, such as the fallopian tubes. They are commonly used to treat non-cancerous growths in the uterus, which can contribute to endometriosis, pelvic support issues, chronic pain, and other gynecological issues. However, hysterectomies are only advised after exhausting all other options, and they should only be administered in extreme cases. A hysterectomy should be avoided when treating a woman in her childbearing years as undergoing the procedure will prevent pregnancy.

Investigations Underway

The Medical Director of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Health Service Corps (IHSC) has vowed to fully investigate these claims and strongly disputes that detainees are being subjected to experimental medical procedures.  The Medical Director stated that two women had been referred to hysterectomies from the detention center in 2018, but they did not say how many tubal ligations or other potential sterilization procedures were conducted in the past several years.

The Secretary of the DHS also opened a parallel investigation into the medical records of the facility. Members of Congress also called on the DHS Inspector General to investigate the claims in the whistleblower complaint and demanded they provide a status of the investigation.

What are the Claims of the Detainees?

The Vice Chair of the House Immigration Subcommittee has been briefed by three attorneys who represented the detainees. These attorneys stated that approximately 17 or 18 people held at the detention center were subjected to unnecessary gynecological procedures without proper consent. It is unclear what role ICE officials had in obtaining consent or initiating the procedures.

Immigration lawyers representing a separate group of women who are currently at the detention center or had been previously detained said that they were mistreated by one particular doctor and a gynecology specialist. These women complained that this doctor failed to explain the procedures or provide Spanish translators.

One of the women recounted an incident where she went for a procedure involving an ovarian cyst and general anesthesia. After she recovered consciousness, she was told that the doctor removed her fallopian tube. She was also informed after the procedure that she may no longer be able to conceive. She stated that if she understood the risks involved, she would not have allowed the procedure to commence.

Poor Conditions at Detention Centers

Even if ICE is not involved in the matter, there is poor oversight and inhumane conditions that are causing detainees to suffer health hazards, including unnecessary medical treatments and an increase in COVID-19 cases. Many ICE detention centers, particularly those that are being operated by private prison contractors, are being accused of abuse, poor sanitation, shortages of equipment, food, and other essentials. When faced with immigration issues, it is essential to speak to a lawyer. Immigration laws are hard to navigate, and a dedicated immigration lawyer will be able to protect their client.

Philadelphia Immigration Lawyers at Surin & Griffin, P.C. Defend Clients Mistreated in Detention Centers

If you were detained and suffered abuse, you may have claims against the detention center. Our Philadelphia immigration lawyers at Surin & Griffin, P.C. provide comprehensive legal representation in all types of immigration matters. For an initial consultation, contact us online or call us at 215-925-4435. Located in Philadelphia, we serve clients throughout Pennsylvania and nationwide.