Exclusive: DHS to Investigate Allegation of Mandatory Hysterectomies Performed on Detained Women

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Immigration rights activists protest at ICE headquarters in Washington, D.C., July 17, 2020. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

As Dan McLaughlin outlined yesterday evening, a whistleblowing nurse at the Irwin County Detention Center in Georgia has alleged that women detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) at the center were sent to a doctor outside the facility who performed involuntary hysterectomies on them.

Understandably, this has received a great deal of negative media attention, although, as Dan points out, most of the coverage has sensationalized the allegation. Based on the information available at the moment, the allegation itself is much narrower than most subsequent reporting has made it appear. What’s more, the nurse is the only person to make this claim on the record; the other sources remain unnamed and unidentified.

Of course, if this horrific allegation turns out to be true — and regardless of whether one woman or two women or twelve women or more received this appalling treatment — whomever is responsible ought to be held fully accountable. But since the allegation became public, markedly little reporting has managed to answer essential questions such as those Dan raised:

Is the doctor correctly identified? Does the doctor have a sterling professional record, or a battery of red flags that should have been known to ICDC authorities? How many hysterectomies are at issue? Is there any evidence whatsoever — none is cited in the complaint — that this is anything larger than an issue with one doctor employed by one detention facility? It is hard for any fair reader of the complaint, from either a political or a legal perspective, to pronounce on this story without knowing those facts.

In an interview this afternoon, Ken Cuccinelli, deputy secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, tells National Review that he has asked the Office of Inspector General to expedite its existing review of the allegation. In addition, Cuccinelli will send three staff members from DHS this week to conduct their own parallel investigation.

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“Particularly on the medical side, if any of the allegations were true, we’d be very concerned to correct them as quickly as possible,” Cuccinelli said. “I want to be clear that we don’t assume that a complaint is either accurate or inaccurate right out of the box, so we immediately started checking based on the allegations.”

According to Cuccinelli, the initial DHS review found that the allegations are not backed up by any documentation sent to Washington by ICE.

“You’d think that with medical procedures, [doctors] aren’t going to do that if they aren’t getting paid, and we’re not seeing any records of requests for payment or payment yet,” he explains, calling it “virtually inconceivable that any of this could have been going on without multiple sets of records.”

Nevertheless, DHS is sending an audit team composed of a Coast Guard doctor, a medical nurse from the deputy secretary’s office, and a lawyer from the general counsel’s office to the center, where they will review the facility’s original records to double-check the conclusions of DHS’s initial review.

“The public version of these allegations has shifted very quickly right out of the box,” he says. “Nonetheless, each new one that they lob out there, we’re going to take a look at ourselves and perform this audit of our own.”

Cuccinelli notes that, although the allegations have already changed several times since being made public, his team is “very much leaning forward on this” and will conduct its audit without interfering with the IG investigation, which has primacy.

“Our interest isn’t in the outcome per se of the inspector general’s investigation. It’s making sure that we have the truth in front of us and can correct any mistakes that are being made at the facility,” he says. “Obviously, we don’t need the inspector general to tell us to hold anyone accountable. If anyone has done anything wrong, we’ll do that ourselves.”

According to DHS, the auditors will develop a timeline for their investigation after arriving at the center tomorrow and assessing what documentation review and interviews will be necessary.

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