This week a whistleblower complaint documented “jarring medical neglect” within an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention center in Georgia.
Dawn Wooten, a former nurse at ICE’s Irwin County Detention Center, revealed that ICE performed forced and coerced mass hysterectomies on women in its care, refused to test people in detention for COVID-19 and shredded medical records. Local organizations Project South, Georgia Detention Watch, Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights and South Georgia Immigrant Support Network are tirelessly leading efforts on the ground to demand accountability.
The One Oregon coalition — which includes Causa Oregon, Forward Together, NARAL Pro-Choice Oregon and Planned Parenthood Advocates of Oregon — released the following statement:
This is yet another outrageous attack on some of the most vulnerable people in our communities. This is an attack on women trying to immigrate to the United States, fleeing violence and corruption in search of a better life for themselves and their families — just like many of our families have done in the past — who have been forced into detention because of our broken immigration process and were then sterilized against their will and without their consent.
We are hurt and beyond angry — because this story is horrible. This is forced sterilization. This is abuse, and it fits a pattern of racist mistreatment by law enforcement particularly toward people of color, including enslaved Africans, Natives, Latinx folks, disabled people and more. We cannot let this continue on our watch. This latest revelation confirms that today, inside immigration detention jails, the worst of our country’s past is still alive, traumatizing families.
As a Black woman, nurse Dawn Wooten will likely face uniquely harmful, racist attacks for speaking out as a whistleblower. In her own powerful words, “I became a whistleblower, now I’m a target, but I’ll take a target any day to do what’s right, [rather] than just sit there and be part of something inhumane.” She is a shining example of courageous Black women who began and continue to be the bedrock of the Reproductive Justice movement, and we must do our part to honor her brave actions, by stepping up to defend her and her family against all threats. We stand with all whistleblowers who use their voice to stand up to injustice. Click here to donate toward Dawn Wooten’s legal services.
The United States has a long history of experimentation and forced sterilization on Black, Latino, Indigenous, Japanese, immigrant and other communities of color. And our state has a long history of forced sterilizations of Oregonians. Between 1917 and 1981, the Oregon Eugenics Board sterilized more than 2,600 Oregonians from the Oregon State Hospital, Oregon prisons and other state institutions. These were individuals that the state of Oregon decided were unfit to have children, and thus sterilized.
The sterilization of women in ICE custody is based on controlling their bodies and preventing them from having children. It should come as no surprise — Donald Trump and right-wing extremists have been using the racist trope of “anchor babies” to stir up anti-immigrant sentiment for years. Sterilizing immigrant women in ICE custody is a logical outgrowth of those beliefs: because sterilized women can’t have children who will be U.S. citizens.
As recently as 2018, Oregon saw simultaneous attacks on immigrant and reproductive rights when anti-immigrant and anti-abortion ballot measures were introduced. Emboldened by the Trump administration’s hateful rhetoric and relentless attacks on immigrants, white-supremacist groups, who have long been active in the state, introduced Ballot Measure 105, which sought to repeal Oregon’s decades-long protection of immigrant communities from targeting and profiling.
Simultaneously, anti-abortion extremists brought Ballot Measure 106, which would have taken away coverage for abortion care from Medicaid patients and public employees. Measure 106 was organized, in part, as a response to the 2017 passage of the nation’s most progressive reproductive health care law, the Reproductive Health Equity Act (RHEA) — which, among other things, ensures that Oregonians can access the full spectrum of reproductive health care, including abortion, regardless of immigration status.
The organizations that worked together to pass RHEA regrouped in 2018 to fight back against Measures 105 and 106. We banned together then and won. And now, we stand together against this targeted and egregious violation of an individual’s right to control their own body.
Let us be crystal clear: This is a staggering abuse of human rights. Abuses like this happen within our state-controlled systems when immigrants are dehumanized, when our leaders use racist and hateful rhetoric to talk about immigrants, and when our immigration system is used as a weapon of white supremacy. Immigration officials have proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that they are unable and unwilling to prioritize the health and safety of people in detention — forced sterilizations now sit alongside separation of children from their parents, dangerous medical conditions, abuse and mistreatment, having absolutely no concern for the spread of COVID in detention centers during a pandemic, and so many other instances of abuse in our immigration detention system. The only way to keep detained people safe is to release all of them from custody.
Immigrant justice is reproductive justice. Every person has the right to have children, not have children and to parent the children we have — no matter their immigration status or the country they are from. Our partnership, our coalition and our organizing for immigrant rights and reproductive justice have never been more necessary. Join our organizations, SisterSong and other groups that are “making a commitment to dismantle and rebuild every system that causes harm to our bodies, our families and our communities.”
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One Oregon is a statewide coalition that defends against anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim policies and ballot measures and works to ensure that all Oregonians, regardless of country of birth, are treated with dignity and respect.
NARAL Pro-Choice Oregon develops and sustains a constituency that uses the political process to guarantee every person who can become pregnant the right to make personal decisions regarding the full range of reproductive choices, including preventing unintended pregnancy, bearing healthy children, and choosing legal abortion.