Democratic members of Colorado’s Senate and House are calling for a congressional investigation into a whistleblower complaint filed earlier this month stating that immigrants received forced hysterectomies while detained at an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facility in Georgia.
Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition (CIRC), an immigration advocacy group, released a statement condemning ICE and demanding it be defunded.
CIRC called for the closure of every immigration detention center and the immediate end to ICE. Gladis Ibarra, CIRC’s Policy Manager, strongly condemned the alleged forced hysterectomies.
“These latest reports of abuse by ICE are absolutely horrific, but unfortunately they are not out of line with ICE’s history,” Ibarra said. “They are part of a long pattern of violations of the basic human rights of immigrants targeted by this agency. Far from making communities safer, it is obvious that ICE has been and continues to be responsible for reprehensible actions perpetrated on behalf of our own government — a body which is supposed to represent all of us.”
A statement from Colorado Democrats outlined the Trump administration’s sordid history of immigrant rights transgressions, ranging from sexual assaults at detention centers to ICE’s family separation policy.
“These whistleblower claims of sterilization surgeries performed on immigrant women without their consent are horrifying and infuriating,” the statement read. “If found to be true, these actions represent an unspeakable affront to human decency, dignity and rights. We support calls for Congressional investigations and demand that those responsible are held accountable and swiftly removed from their responsibilities overseeing the detention of immigrants.”
CIRC also pointed out that the United States has a dark history of using forced sterilizations to control a minority population. Dusti Gurule, executive director of CIRC member organization the Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights (COLOR), explained in a statement how reproductive oppression has long been a tool of the powerful.
“The reproductive and bodily autonomy of womxn of color has been a subject of control and attacks for generations,” Gurule said. “We must eliminate policies that restrict the ability of Black, Indigenous, Latinx and other people of color to make our own reproductive decisions and fight for policies that promote bodily autonomy.”
Colorado’s Senate and House Democrats said that their statement was made with the full support of the Colorado Latino Democratic Caucus.
“Crossing a border without proper documentation does not take away a person’s humanity or basic human rights,” the statement read. “We demand a full and fair investigation into these allegations, and if they are found to be true, a swift end to these inhumane practices, accountability for any perpetrators and justice for victims.”
Both statements mention ICE facilities in Colorado. The Colorado Dems statement cited legislation sponsored by U.S. Rep. Jason Crow (D-CO) that allowed members of Congress to make unannounced visits to immigrant detention facilities. Crow introduced the bill after ICE barred him from entering the immigrant detention center in Aurora, which is located in his district.
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The detention center has been harshly criticized for its unhealthy and unsafe conditions after several outbreaks of chicken pox and mumps, in addition to multiple cases of medical neglect. In April, the facility, run by a for-profit organization called the GEO Group, was still increasing its population during a COVID-19 outbreak within the center.
Alethea Smock, a spokesperson for ICE in Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, and Montana, said that the reason Crow was barred entry from the Aurora facility in 2019 was because he insisted that he take the tour with members of the media
“Because [Rep. Crow] would not enter without a media escort, we had to turn away the entire group,” Smock said. “Had he not had media with him, the outcome would have been different.”
While there was media at the confrontation, Crow’s office has said they were not insisting or even suggesting that they had to escort him on a tour. At the time, Crow’s team was told simply that unannounced visits were not allowed, with no mention of media as the reason why.
CIRC’s statement also praised Dawn Wooten, the Georgia nurse who alleged the Georgia facility was performing forced hysterectomies.
“We salute the bold action of Dawn Wooten, the Irwin County facility nurse who risked her job to bring this appalling situation to light,” CIRC’s statement read. “We must honor her determination to speak out against the abuse taking place by immediately taking action against these criminally inhumane practices.”
U.S. Department of Homeland Security will conduct an investigation into the allegations. ICE disputed the whistleblower claims in a statement to the Wall Street Journal.
In a statement Dr. Ada Rivera, Medical Director of the ICE Health Service Corps, said since 2018 two individuals at the Georgia detention center were recommended hysterectomies. Those hysterectomies were recommended by credentialed medical professionals.
“Detainees are afforded informed consent, and a medical procedure like a hysterectomy would never be performed against a detainee’s will,” Rivera said. “All medical professionals certainly have a duty to report any issues of concern through appropriate channels, such as making a report to the Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General (OIG); however, it is unfortunate that those involved in this report have chosen to first go to the media with their allegations, without allowing the government to examine or take appropriate action. Out of respect for the process of matters pending before the OIG, ICE does not comment prematurely on reported allegations, and ICE intends to fully cooperate with any resulting investigation by the OIG.”
Note: This story was updated to include a statement from ICE Spokesperson Alethea Smock and a response from Rep. Jason Crow’s office.