- A former nurse at a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility in Georgia has made a number of startling allegations in a federal complaint filed Monday to the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General.
- Most notably, the whistleblower accused the facility’s doctors of performing mass hysterectomies on female detainees.
- Her complaint also alleges, among other things, that facility officials underreported COVID-19 cases, denied symptomatic detainees’ requests for coronavirus tests, and even placed people who had tested positive back into the general population.
- ICE has said the complaint should be treated with “appropriate skepticism” because its allegations are unproven and “made without any fact-checkable specifics.”
Whistleblower Complains of Mass Hysterectomies
A whistleblower has accused a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility in Georgia of a number of inhumane and unethical practices, including performing mass hysterectomies on female detainees.
The allegations are part of a federal complaint filed on Monday to the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General. In it, the whistleblower is identified as Dawn Wooten, a nurse who had worked at the Irwin County Detention Center (ICDC) until July 2020.
“Everybody he sees has a hysterectomy — just about everybody,” Wooten said of the gynecologist performing the procedures. “He’s even taken out the wrong ovary on a young lady. She was supposed to get her left ovary removed because it had a cyst on the left ovary; he took out the right one.“
“She was upset. She had to go back to take out the left and she wound up with a total hysterectomy. She still wanted children — so she has to go back home now and tell her husband that she can’t bear kids.”
One female detainee cited in the complaint even likened the procedures to that of “an experimental concentration camp.”
“It was like they’re experimenting with our bodies,” she said.
Wooten went on to say that many of the women receiving these procedures have told her that they didn’t fully understand why they had to get them. That has now raised the question of whether or not these women truly gave their informed consent.
“These immigrant women, I don’t think they really, totally, all the way understand this is what’s going to happen depending on who explains it to them,” Wooten said.
This is because, according to Wooten, nurses at the facility who don’t speak Spanish will use Google to try to communicate with patients. In other cases, Wooten said the nurses will use another detained immigrant to help interpret, rather than following protocol and using the language line.
The complaint also details the account of another woman, a detainee at the facility who said the staff at ICDC and the doctor’s office did not properly explain what procedure she was going to have.
In fact, that woman says she was given multiple different responses, including that she needed a small procedure to drain an ovarian cyst, that she was receiving a hysterectomy to have her womb removed, and later, that part of her vagina would be scraped off because she had a thick womb.
After receiving these conflicting explanations, the woman said she tried to explain that to a nurse, but the nurse responded by getting angry with her and yelling at her. According to the woman’s testimony in the complaint, the nurse’s response confirmed “that something was not right.”
Ultimately, this woman never actually received any of the procedures she said were described to her because she tested positive for COVID-19.
Wooten also alleged that there was a widespread disregard for protecting ICDC staff and detainees from COVID-19.
According to Wooten, that includes a lack of social distancing, denying tests for symptomatic detainees, and even placing people who had tested positive back into the general population.
Wooten claims that facility officials would underreport the number of positive cases. In some cases, she said nurses at the facility would shred medical requests submitted by detained immigrants and would fabricate medical records.
Regarding staff, Wooten said they were pressured to “work symptomatic and work positive as long as we had a mask on,” Notably, that is against the official policies of the facility.
Wooten said even though she became symptomatic at one point and submitted her doctor’s notes to her supervisor, they still required her to work until she told them she would be quarantining while her test results came back. When she later returned to work after testing negative, she said she was formally reprimanded for not calling in sick every day, even though she was allegedly told she didn’t have to.
Wooten also said she complained to leadership multiple times about medical safety at the facility but was later demoted, “all without a proper explanation or adequate justification.” She’s described the move as retaliation for speaking up.
“They’re still not taking this seriously,” Wooten told The Intercept. “Enough was enough.”
ICE Response and Government Reaction
Following these allegations, ICE told the Associated Press, “In general, anonymous, unproven allegations, made without any fact-checkable specifics, should be treated with the appropriate skepticism they deserve.”
In another statement to the Atlanta-Journal Constitution, it also defended its handling of the coronavirus, saying, “ICE epidemiologists have been tracking the outbreak, regularly updating infection prevention and control protocols, and issuing guidance to ICE Health Service Corps staff for the screening and management of potential exposure among detainees.”
The private company that runs ICDC, LaSalle Corrections, has not publicly responded but is also implicated in the complaint.
This is also not the first time LaSalle has come under fire for how it has handled the pandemic. In July, multiple whistleblowers alleged that a separate detention center in Louisiana, which is operated by LaSalle, had engaged in “gross mismanagement, dangerous practices, and compliance failures” that accelerated the spread of COVID-19.
LaSalle Executive Director Rodney Cooper then defended the company before Congress, saying that it had taken “tremendous efforts” to “mitigate impacts of this unprecedented pandemic.”
Still, according to The Intercept, many of Wooten’s claims were corroborated by at least five others, including a member of ICDC’s medical staff and four people currently or recently detained there.
The same day the complaint was filed, Georgia House Minority Leader Bob Trammell (D) sent a letter to the state’s medical and nursing boards, asking them to suspend the licenses of any practitioners implicated in the complaint until a full investigation is conducted.
Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-Ny.) has called the allegations part of “mass human rights violations,” saying on Twitter, “Our country must atone for it all.”
Thursday morning, U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.) echoed calls for an immediate investigation.
“If true, the appalling conditions described in the whistleblower complaint… are a staggering abuse of human rights,” she said in a statement.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (Atlanta-Journal Constitution) (Associated Press)
Nearly 9 Million Are Without Water in Texas, Some Face Electric Bills up To $17,000
- More than 8.8 million people in Texas remained under boil water notices Monday, and over 120,000 had no water service at all.
- Gov. Greg Abbott (R) said Sunday that the state has distributed around 3.5 million bottles of water, though many of the lines to receive that water were plagued with hours-long waits.
- Meanwhile, power outages in the state have fallen below 20,000, but many Texans are also beginning to receive astronomical electric bills of as much as $17,000.
- Both Abbott and Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner (D) said those prices are not the fault of customers. While some form of forgiveness is likely, no immediate plan has been outlined yet.
Millions Without Water
As of Monday morning, nearly 8.8 million people in Texas are still under boil water notices following last week’s snowstorm. That’s about one out of every three Texans.
Despite being a giant chunk of the state’s population, that figure is actually an improvement from 10 million people on Sunday.
Another 120,000 Texans are still without water service at all.
Gov. Greg Abbott (R) said Sunday almost 3.5 million bottles of water have been distributed across Texas by helicopter, airplane, and truck.
The need for water has been extremely visible. An Austin City Council member shared a video on Twitter Sunday showing a massive line of vehicles waiting for clean water. Some waited for more than an hour before the distribution event began. At another site, she said cars began lining up more than five hours before the event.
Abbott said the state is bringing in more plumbers to increase repair efforts for damaged water systems. Additionally, Abbott said homeowners without insurance could qualify for emergency reimbursement from FEMA.
Meanwhile, one large-scale effort from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY.) has now raised more than $5 million since first being launched on Thursday. That money will go to several organizations, including the Houston Food Bank, Family Eldercare, Feeding Texas, and the Bridge Homeless Recovery Center.
Texas Electric Bills Soar as High as $17K
All but just under 20,000 Texas homes and businesses have now had their power restored as of Monday morning.
That’s a stark contrast from the more than 4 million that were out of power at one point last week.
While that’s largely good news, many Texans are now beginning to receive sky-high electric bills. That’s especially evident for those whose power stayed on during the storm. In fact, some people have now told multiple media outlets they’re facing bills as high as $17,000.
One 63-year-old Army vet, who was charged $16,752, told The New York Times that his bill was about 70 times higher than normal.
“My savings is gone,” he said. “There’s nothing I can do about it, but it’s broken me.”
As far as why his and others’ eclectic bills are so high, many people in Texas have plans that are directly tied to the wholesale price of electricity. Usually, that helps keep their costs low, but as demand for power surged during last week’s snowstorm, those prices hit astronomical highs.
In a statement on Saturday, Abbott said Texas lawmakers “have a responsibility to protect Texans from spikes in their energy bills that are a result of the severe winter weather and power outages,”
He added that the state Legislature is working “on solutions to help Texas families and ensure they do not get stuck with skyrocketing energy bills.”
In a similar tone, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner (D) said in an interview with CBS on Sunday, “It’s not the consumers who should assume [these] costs. They are not at fault for what happened this week.”
That said, Turner also laid blame at the feet of the Legislature, calling the current crisis “foreseeable” on the part of lawmakers because a similar snowstorm and outages struck Texas in 2011.
Turner added that, at the time, he was part of the Texas legislature and had filed a bill that would have required the agency overseeing Texas’ grid to “ensure that there was an adequate reserve to prevent blackouts.”
“The leadership in Austin did not give it a hearing,” he said.
While no aid has been fully guaranteed yet, Texas has prevented electric companies from being able to shut off power for people who don’t pay their bills on time.
See what others are saying: (NBC News) (The New York Times) (CNN)
Texans Still Face Broken Pipes, Flooding, and Carbon Monoxide Poisoning as Million Regain Power
- The number of Texans without power fell from 3.3 million on Wednesday to below 500,000 by Thursday.
- Still, millions are currently under a boil advisory, pipes have burst as they begin to thaw, and some individuals have died or been hospitalized because of carbon monoxide poisoning.
- The Federal Emergency Management Agency said Wednesday that it has sent generators, water, and blankets to Texas, adding that it’s working to send additional diesel for generators.
- Gov. Greg Abbott and President Joe Biden have also reportedly discussed the possibility of extra funding for people’s electricity bills, as well as for burst pipes.
Power May Be Back but Problems Persist
Power outages in Texas Thursday morning fell to under 500,000 — down from 3.3 million Wednesday morning.
According to the state’s main grid operator, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), the remaining outages are largely weather-related and not connected to problems related to forced outages.
While that return of power to millions is significant, Texans are still facing a host of other problems.
For example, there have been numerous reports of carbon monoxide poisoning as people still without power try to keep warm in their cars or through other means. An adult and a child were found dead Tuesday after running their car inside of a garage, prompting Houston police to issue a statement warning that “cars, grills and generators should not be used in or near a building.”
Six children and four adults were rushed to the hospital Wednesday night for carbon monoxide poisoning after setting up grills inside their homes.
Even for those now with power, water has become a major issue. On Wednesday, 7 million Texans were placed on a boil advisory and about 263,000 were without functioning water providers.
One reporter tweeted out a video of people lining up at a park to fill up buckets of water.
“This is not a third world country,” she said. “This is Houston, Texas.”
The Food and Drug Administration and the National Weather Service have even cited melting and boiling snow as an emergency option if people can’t find water elsewhere, an option many have already turned to.
For some, all these problems only seemed to compound in the form of burst pipes. One viral video shows water gushing out of a third-story apartment. Others posted images of their broken pipes and the damage they have caused.
As a result, a number of local media outlets have begun to outline steps people can take once their pipes start to thaw or if they break.
Amid Problems, Aid is Being Distributed
Alongside the overwhelming amount of problems, there has also been a large aid response.
A FEMA spokesperson said Wednesday that the agency has sent 60 “very large” generators to help keep hospitals and other critical infrastructure open.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki added that FEMA is preparing to move diesel into Texas to keep that backup power going.
So far, FEMA said it has sent “millions of liters of water” and “tens of thousands” of blankets.
Governor Greg Abbott and President Joe Biden have also reportedly discussed the possibility of extra funding for people’s electricity bills, as well as for burst pipes. That’s because as the storm first hit, electrical demand surged. Since many Texans have plans connected to the wholesale price of electricity, they’re potentially set to be hit with sky-high bills.
Among other issues plaguing Texans is food spoilage; however, that can potentially be reimbursed through renters’ and homeowners’ insurance.
According to an official from the Insurance Council of Texas, “Food coverage is often related to personal property.”
Notably, there are some stipulations depending on individual circumstances and policy. To learn more about how insurance providers accept food spoilage claims, click here.
See what others are saying: (KTRK) (The New York Times) (Houston Chronicle)
Texas Mayor Tells “Lazy” Residents “No One Owes You” Anything Amid Power Outages
- When residents in Colorado City, Texas turned to a local Facebook group to ask if the city or county had emergency shelter plans in place to keep people warm amid power outages, Mayor Tim Boyd shared a Facebook message that sparked outrage.
- “Sink or swim it’s your choice! The City and County, along with power providers or any other service owes you NOTHING! I’m sick and tired of people looking for a damn handout!” he wrote before suggesting that those struggling are “lazy.”
- “Only the strong will survive and the weak will parish,” he added. “Get off your ass and take care of your own family!”
- Hours later, Boyd said he was speaking as a citizen since he had already turned in his resignation and had not signed up to run for mayor again ahead of the deadline a few days ago. It’s unclear when he actually resigned and he is still listed as mayor on the city’s website.
Mayor Under Fire
The mayor of Colorado City, Texas is facing intense backlash for comments he made on Facebook Tuesday claiming the local government has no responsibility to assist residents struggling amid historic winter temperatures.
The remarks came after community members turned to a local Facebook page asking if the city or county had emergency shelters in place to keep people warm amid widespread power outages.
In response, Mayor Tim Boyd wrote, “No one owes you [or] your family anything; nor is it the local government’s government’s responsibility to support you during trying times like this!”
“Sink or swim it’s your choice!” He continued. “The City and County, along with power providers or any other service owes you NOTHING! I’m sick and tired of people looking for a damn handout!”
Boyd argued that residents should come up with their own plans to keep their families safe. Those that are sitting at home in the cold waiting for assistance, he said, are “lazy” as a direct result of their raising.
“Only the strong will survive and the weak will parish,” he continued, likely meaning perish in his statement.
He blamed the calls for basic services like heat and electricity a product of a “socialist government where they feed people to believe that the FEW will work and others will become dependent for handouts.”
He closed by telling locals to “quit crying,” adding, “Get off your ass and take care of your own family!”
Mayor Doubles Down, Says He Already Resigned
That now-deleted post drew immediate backlash as Texans continue to slam the government for not delivering adequate support amid the storm.
The outrage eventually prompted Boyd to write a follow-up post, which he also later deleted.
In it, he claimed that his comments “were taken out of context” and did not apply to the elderly; however, he continued to double down.
“I was only making the statement that those folks that are too lazy to get up and fend for themselves but are capable should not be dealt a handout. I apologize for the wording and some of the phrases that were used!”
Boyd said he already turned in his resignation and had not signed up to run for mayor again ahead of the deadline a few days ago. He also said he wished he would’ve kept his words to himself or been more descriptive, and he added that all the anger and harassment since his post has caused his wife to lose her job.
Ultimately, he said he was speaking as a citizen since he is no longer mayor and called for the harassment of his family to stop.
According to The Washington Post, it isn’t immediately clear if he resigned before or after writing his controversial Facebook post. As of early Wednesday morning, the paper noted that he was still listed as mayor on Colorado City’s website, and city council agendas showed that he had served in that role as recently as last week.