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In this Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020, file photo, Dawn Wooten, left, a nurse at Irwin County Detention Center in Ocilla, Georgia, speaks at a news conference in Atlanta protesting conditions at the immigration jail. AP Photo/Jeff Amy 
In this Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020, file photo, Dawn Wooten, left, a nurse at Irwin County Detention Center in Ocilla, Georgia, speaks at a news conference in Atlanta protesting conditions at the immigration jail. AP Photo/Jeff Amy 

Survivors of Irwin County Detention Center plea to keep it closed

Survivors of Irwin County Detention shared their stories and pleaded for the facility to close permanently.

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On June 28, Congress members Rashida Tlaib (D-MI ) and Hank Johnson (D-GA) wrote a letter of support for survivors of the Irwin County Detention Center in Georgia, known for accusations of human rights abuses on women detained there. 

The letter mentions that while they welcome President Joe Biden’s announcement that he would end the use of privatized prison corporations in the system of detention, the representatives would like to see “greater action” on the issue. 

“These private prison corporations prioritize profit over human rights, as has been seen time and again in the abuses endured by immigrants held in their facilities — abuses that range from forced labor, use of solitary confinement as a means of punishment or control, to medical neglect and abuse…” the letter reads

Irwin County Detention Center became notorious last Fall for heinous reports of hysterectomies and unwanted gynecological procedures conducted on immigrant women, according to several first-hand accounts and reports that were sparked by a whistleblower account from a nurse who worked on-site. 

The detention center supposedly no longer holds women, after Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Alejandro Mayorkas ordered ICE to transfer the remaining immigrant detainees to other facilities on May 20. 

However, despite the announcement, The Intercept reported on June 3 that at least 34 people were transferred into Irwin from other detention centers, adding to the logistical difficulty of closing it and possibly delaying a shut down.

It’s the issue at the heart of a roundtable discussion held June 28, wherein survivors of Irwin County Detention shared their stories and pleaded for the facility to close permanently.

Wendy Dowe’s case was instrumental in the initial shut-down of the detention center by Mayorkas, and she has continued to share her story to ensure it remains closed.

“They told me that they were going to perform surgery. I don’t remember anything after that,” Dowe, who is originally from Jamaica, said.

She said she placed her hand over her stomach and noticed there were bandages when she finally woke up. She was given no pain medication until days later, when she voiced she had developed an infection. 

Dowe was later taken back to the doctor to have another surgery because she might have cancer. She said that during this time, she had also heard first-hand accounts from other women detained at Irwin, and that the doctor had performed hysterectomies on them without their consent. 

Dowe was told she had a mass on her ovary, but she made it clear she wanted to have a second opinion, which ICE refused to pay for. Officials had Dowe sign a refusal form saying that she refused to take the surgery, and later referred her to mental health facilities. Then, they brought her to solitary confinement for what they perceived as noncompliance. 

During all this time, Dowe was still in the dark as to what surgery she had initially undergone. 

It wasn’t until she was deported to Jamaica that she later learned that her fallopian tubes had been removed. 

“It’s a nightmare for me,” she said, recalling her experience. “I don’t want to see another mother go through what I’ve been through. Change the system!”

Later Karina Jiménez, whose brother died at Stewart Detention facility in 2017 told her story. 

“I can hear from her voice and understand the psychological trauma she faced,” Jiménez said of Dowe's story. 

Her brother died at Stewart Detention Center in 2017 — a victim of medical misconduct and human indifference. He faced psychological torture and later died from suicide after enduring solitary confinement for 17 days. 

His case has become one of the highest profile examples of ICE’s negligence at privately-run, for-profit facilities. 

Brenda Ramirez spent months in Irwin County detention center, and described the experience as jarring. 

“It was a huge traumatic experience,” she said. 

“None of us mattered,” she said, remarking on the squalid conditions. There were no shower curtains, for one, and whenever members of Congress would visit the facility, she said officials were in a frenzy to install curtains, clean, and paint the walls. 

“I hope that place stays closed.” Ramirez said. 

New York Rep. Adriano Espaillat toured the Irwin detention center in the fall with Rep. Hank Johnson, who co-authored the letter asking for the center to remain closed with Rep. Tlaib. 

“It must stay shut down and any other facility like Irwin should be shut down,” Espaillat said at the roundtable. 

Project South, who organized the event has been incessantly working with other organizing groups to close privately-owned, for-profit detention centers — and all detention centers for that matter — wrote the following on Twitter:

“There is no amount of reform or oversight that can make an inherently racist, xenophobic system more humane.”

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