Opinion: ICE violates basic human rights, needs reform

Katie Lew, Staff Writer

Recent allegations complaining about forced hysterectomies performed in immigrant detention centers have surfaced in the media. A whistleblower and former nurse at the Irwin County Detention Center (ICDC), Dawn Wooten, filed a complaint to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General concerning this issue. According to Wooten, women who complained of having heavy periods or asked for birth control were brought to outside gynecologists and would sometimes receive hysterectomies without their knowledge.

 “A lot of them said that they didn’t understand what was being done to them. Nobody explained it to them,” Wooten said.

One detainee, who remains unidentified out of fear of immigration authorities, said that she was transported to the Irwin County Hospital for an operation but was given three different explanations of her procedure from three different individuals, ranging from having a small amount of tissue scraped away, to drilling holes in her stomach, to draining an ovarian cyst, to having her womb entirely removed. 

The detainee attempted to explain her situation to an ICDC nurse, stating, “I tried to explain to her that something isn’t right; that procedure isn’t for me.” The nurse only reacted with anger and yelled at the woman. 

In response to these claims, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) vehemently stated “a medical procedure like a hysterectomy would never be performed against a detainee’s will.” 

The detainees may have consented to an operation, but they didn’t give informed consent vital for any surgery.

These allegations have caused a stir among Democratic lawmakers, who immediately launched an investigation, and the public, who have spread the issue on social media.

Yet this is not the first scandal regarding ICE and their control over the immigration system. 

ICE’s enablement to cause these atrocities dates back to 2002 in which the Homeland Security Act put forth a large governmental reorganization as a response to 9/11. This introduced ICE as a new component agency and granted ICE new civil and criminal authority in governing the border, customs, trade and immigration, which allowed its rise in power.

During Barack Obama’s last term in office, the Department of Homeland Security’s most well-known division, Enforcement and Removal Operations, honed in on the deportation of immigrants who committed serious crimes rather than any illegal immigrant. This changed in 2017 when President Donald Trump signed an executive order to re-expand the focus of immigrant detainment and deportation regardless of criminal record.

When Trump’s administration decided to enact a family separation policy for illegal immigrants, the effects tore apart thousands of families. The administration began with its “pilot program” in mid-2017, forcing any adult who crossed the border illegally—a misdemeanor for first-time offenders—into detention centers. By the end of 2017, the administration was separating families along the southern border. 

Family separations accelerated with a “zero-tolerance” policy in April 2018. Under this policy, all border crossings were referred for federal criminal prosecution. Anyone crossing the border were treated as criminals and had their children taken away under the excuse that they were subject to prosecution. 

On top of that, the policy’s inability to reunite families due to the government’s failure to implement any reconciliation system left kids to suffer alone in detention centers.

The environment of these detention centers caused a huge scandal in 2019 with reports of unsanitary and crowded conditions. Detainees would have no access to soap or toothpaste nor places to wash their hands or shower for several days or longer. Outbreaks of various diseases also spread in these centers. 

Some reports detailed children sleeping on the concrete floor and adults having to stand for days due to lack of space, packed in a center of 900 other detainees in a 125 person space capacity. 

Despite Trump’s claim to have ended the family separation policy 2 months after it was enacted, many families have yet to reunite with each other and they remain in different detention centers, enduring the same conditions that were buzzing on social media a year ago.

These immigrants, humans, adults and children, have sustained psychological trauma such as PTSD or separation anxiety which can affect them for the rest of their lives. These humans have been abused and assaulted by immigration authorities. ICE has inflicted lasting physical and emotional damage to these humans, yes, humans, with no retribution.

ICE, given many reasons and opportunities for reform, has yet to reevaluate their systems and policies despite protests from the people. The agency should be audited by a third party in order to determine its integrity and validity which may result in reformation or, hopefully, abolishment.