Dawn Wooten: I became a whistleblower. Now I’m a target. But I’ll take a target any day to do what’s right and just, than sit and be a part of what’s inhumane.
Eddie Conway: Nurse Dawn Wooten has emerged as a whistleblower in the state of Georgia after she reported in the ICE detention centers, some of them are privately owned. They had been sterilizing women for any reason whatsoever.
Speaker 3: You talk about, in the complaint, hearing from women who are detained there talking about a specific doctor performing hysterectomies, referring to him as a “uterus collector.” Tell us about how you heard about this doctor and what women said about their experiences with him.
Dawn Wooten: You have detained women. I had several detained women on numerous occasions that would come to me and say, “Miss Wooten, I had hysterectomy. Why?” I had no answers as to why they had those procedures. And one lady walked up to me here, this last time around, between October of 19 until July the second. And she said, “What is he? Is he the uterus collector? Does he collect uteruses?” And I asked her what does she mean? And she says, “Everybody that I’ve talked to has had a hysterectomy.” And you just don’t know what to say. I mean, I don’t have a answer for why they would come to me and they would say, “Is he the uterus collector?”
Eddie Conway: Joining us today will be Azadeh from Project South, a social justice organization representing Dawn Wooten. Thank you for joining me.
Azadeh Shahshahani: Thank you for having me.
Eddie Conway: Okay. Could you, just for the sake of time, give me an overview of how this sterilization came to light and how your organization came to be representing the whistleblower nurse? Could you talk a little bit about that?
Azadeh Shahshahani: Sure. So we found out, we were documenting conditions at this immigration detention center. We have been documenting the conditions there for a long time. And over the summer, someone put us in touch with Miss Wooten, and she obviously had very serious allegations, assertions to share, and we are representing her along with the Government Accountability Project. And the information that she provided was very concerning and also was in accordance with what we’re hearing from the detained immigrants, so we decided that the time to file a complaint was as soon as possible.
Eddie Conway: Okay. So I understand this is a private-run immigration detainment center. How long has this been going on in that center, according to your statistics or the nurse, and who regulates these private centers?
Azadeh Shahshahani: So we first heard about the case of a hysterectomy in 2019. Our coalition partners may have heard about it even earlier, but the detention center is run by the LaSalle Corporation, which is a private corporation. And so right there is a huge problem because of the lack of transparency and accountability.
Eddie Conway: Oh. Okay. So now you all have actually filed the legal suit. I understand that there’s going to be an investigation in this particular center. Are you aware that there might be cases in other centers also?
Azadeh Shahshahani: So I’m not sure about what the situation looks like in other immigration detention centers, because our focus has been on the detention centers in Georgia. So we are filing a complaint with the Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General and the Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties focused on this particular facility.
Eddie Conway: Okay. Now I understand the actual woman, Pauline, whose complaint this is filed around, is being deported, and there’s effort being made to stop that. What’s that situation?
Azadeh Shahshahani: So basically her deportation has been stopped. It has been halted for now because of the massive public demand to make that happen, but she was going to go in for an issue she was experiencing. And the next thing she knows, one of the fallopian tubes was taken out. So this is, unfortunately, one example in terms of what has been happening to the women at this facility. In terms of lack of care, but also just really abusive treatment by this doctor and the management.
Eddie Conway: I understand that social distancing and no masks are being applied or personal protection equipment, none of that stuff is happening in this facility. Are you aware of that? Or is that just something that’s being reported?
Azadeh Shahshahani: Right. Social distancing is really not possible in a detention center. Plus they all use the same phones, they use the same equipment, so that’s not possible. And in terms of testing, they were not even testing people until we filed a complaint because they were actively refusing to test people. And so we filed a complaint last month, demanding that that be done.
Eddie Conway: Okay. You know, obviously, we did a story like this a couple of years ago in California where it was over a couple of hundred cases that were widespread.
Azadeh Shahshahani: You know, what we heard from many of the women that were sterilized was that they would go into the health care facility with maybe some issues of cramps or any type of issue that they were experiencing. Many times, some of them didn’t know that they had actually been sterilized until they were released from prison, and were actually trying to have children and realized when they went to the doctor and again, or their medical practitioner, that they have been sterilized.
Eddie Conway: The whole California history of this eugenics stuff is actually what Nazi Germany used. Are you getting a sense now, in the midst of this pandemic, that there might be a danger of this kind of activity going on, and, I know you can’t answer this, I know 31 States or something that have passed laws, but isn’t this illegal in terms of the United Nations charter on genocide?
Azadeh Shahshahani: Well, there’s definitely concerned given that these are immigrant women in a particularly vulnerable situation and they basically have little to no control over their bodies. And oftentimes you may not be proficient in English. So the whole situation is very disturbing in terms of what’s happening, so we definitely need to put a stop to this. And that’s why we have filed the complaint in addition to reaching out to Congress for an investigation.
Eddie Conway: Okay, this is the last question, because I know your time is short. Is there anything you would like the public to know or that they should be doing right now?
Azadeh Shahshahani: We’re calling for the urban County detention center to be shut down is what’s we’re asking. This facility has been rife with abuse for a very long time. The level of problems goes beyond one individual or one particular issue, as you know. The abuses are egregious and the only way to put a stop to them is to shut this place down.
Eddie Conway: Okay. Thank you for joining me.
Azadeh Shahshahani: Thank you very much.
Eddie Conway: Thank you for joining this episode of Rattling the Bars.
Production: Ericka Blount
Studio: Cameron Granadino
Post-Production: Cameron Granadino