The Inhumane Treatment of Migrants in Detention Centers Must Stop Now (OPINION)

Sep 21, 2020
3:56 PM

MIAMI — A recent bombshell whistleblower complaint has revealed horrific treatment of vulnerable immigrant women in detention centers, including allegations of mass hysterectomies performed without their consent. These news highlight the ongoing cruelty and abuses taking place at immigration detention centers across the country.

Coronavirus has exacerbated the inhumane treatment immigrants face in detention, and I have already detailed at length what is happening specifically in South Florida detention facilities. For months, health experts have warned the public to practice social distancing and wear protective gear, but immigrants in detention are routinely denied any personal protective equipment and proper access to hygienic products. Guards who go in and out of these facilities are also not given proper protective equipment, posing a dire risk of infection for detainees who are essentially in what could be considered a death trap under the current conditions.

After Hurricane Laura struck southwestern Louisiana, conditions at the Jackson Parish Correctional Center in Jonesboro and the LaSalle Correctional Center in Olla deteriorated so badly that family members of those detained reported to the Associated Press their loved ones faced sweltering heat, no water, no electricity, and overflowing sewage.

At the Krome detention center in South Florida, news recently broke out of Muslim detainees repeatedly being served pork and pork-based products, according to civil rights advocates. This is affecting several dozen Muslims in detention at Krome who due to their religious beliefs are prohibited from consuming pork. The allegations are prompted 29 members of Congress, including Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, the first Muslim women elected to Congress, to send a letter to the Department of Homeland Security demanding an investigation on the matter.

The news about the hysterectomies performed at the detention center in Georgia is uniquely horrifying. The whistleblower, Nurse Dawn Wooten said, “I had several detained women on numerous occasions that would come to me and say, ‘Ms. Wooten, I had a hysterectomy. Why? I had no answers as to why they had those procedures.”

Democratic Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi released a statement condemning the news and recalling past instances in America’s history where women were forced to endure unwanted sterilizations, saying, “this profoundly disturbing situation recalls some of the darkest moments of our nation’s history, from the exploitation of Henrietta Lacks, to the horror of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, to the forced sterilizations of Black women that Fannie Lou Hamer and so many others underwent and fought.”

If it took a whistleblower for the public to know about these brutal hysterectomies, what else don’t we know? There is a clear pattern of human rights abuses at these detention centers and coronavirus has just made things worse. We need transparency and accountability when it comes to what is happening inside these facilities.

Organizations like United We Dream, Southern Poverty Law Center, the ACLU of Florida, Florida Immigrant Coalition, Freedom for Immigrants, and Immigrant Action Alliance recently, hosted a congressional roundtable in which members of Congress Debbie Mucarsel-Powell and Donna Shalala committed to conducting an unannounced inspection of several South Florida detention centers that have been in the spotlight for inhumane treatment of those detained.

We look forward to these Congresswomen shining a light on conditions at these facilities.


Thomas Kennedy is a communications fellow for Community Change Action. He was a member of the Bernie Sanders 2020 campaign and tweets from @Tomaskenn.