Forced Hysterectomies in ICE Detention

By: Madeleine Babb, Pallavi Chandrasekhar, Cora Miller, Jonas Talandis

Forced sterilizations are occurring in an ICE detention center, but experts are not surprised. Here’s why.

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In rural southern Georgia lies Irwin County Detention Center (ICDC), a prison contracted with ICE to incarcerate undocumented immigrants. In September of 2020, ICDC nurse Dawn Wooten partnered with Project South and ICDC detainees to expose a troubling trend of extreme, unwanted, and uninformed gynecological procedures occurring on women incarcerated in the facility. In particular, Wooten noted “red flags regarding the rate at which hysterectomies [were] performed on immigrant women under ICE custody at ICDC.” Due to the severity of the hysterectomy surgery and recovery, as well as the irreversible loss of fertility, hysterectomies are typically reserved for only the most dire and necessary of medical situations and are uncommon in women of reproductive age.

While this case of forced hysterectomies is extremely distressing, it does not come out of the blue. Long histories of sterilizing marginalized women, racist immigration policy, and medical abuse have converged, resulting in this medical violence. This case, it is clear, is not an isolated incident, but rather a progression of timelines which run throughout this history of the United States; specifically, the history of sterilization of Indigenous, Black, and Latina women, the history immigrant detention and ICE medical abuse, and the history of the creation and racialization of sterilization procedures.

On September 14, 2020, these three timelines converge on ICDC, where this magazine will explore the multitude of biological and social implications that this case has on the victims, ICE, other immigrants, and US history at large. Finally, we present a call to action on what you, the reader, can do to support and defend the rights of undocumented immigrants at ICDC and across the U.S.

ICE detainees are ill and dying, and we need to talk about why. In an attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19, ICE employees at a detention facility in Adelanto, CA sprayed detainees with HDQ Neutral, a toxic disinfectant, causing skin irritation, nose bleeds, coughing, and nausea.

If there was any ever doubt about the depths to which backwards immigration politics intersect with backwards reproductive autonomy in the United Stats, this case captures it. Easily one of the most passionate, but also most careful and critical examples of how to think about the biological and the social I have seen. Wonderfully and creatively presented as a complex story of the genealogy of sterlization in contemporary America. – Professor Kelty

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