Whistleblower: Georgia immigration facility is COVID-19 hotbed

ATLANTA — A Georgia nurse claims employees and immigrants at a Georgia immigration facility are dealing with dangerous conditions and lack of proper COVID-19 precautions.

Dawn Wooten is seeking federal whistleblower protection for speaking out in a formal complaint with the Homeland Security Inspector General about the Irwin County Detention Center, an immigration facility about 200 miles south of Atlanta.

“I was told not to tell officers that there were detainees they dealt with day-in day-out that were positive. We have families we have lives,” Wooten said.

In her whistleblower complaint, Wooten alleges that immigrants who were exposed to or showed signs of COVID-19 were not tested.

She also says that staff were not provided proper PPE.

Channel 2 investigative reporter Justin Gray reached out to federal officials.

An ICE spokesperson told him in a statement: “ICE takes all allegations seriously and defers to the OIG regarding any potential investigation and/or results. That said, in general, anonymous, unproven allegations, made without any fact-checkable specifics, should be treated with the appropriate skepticism they deserve.”

But Wooten says she is not speaking anonymously, she’s speaking out publicly.

Standing in front of the Atlanta ICE field office Wooten said, “I began to ask questions about why were the detainees not being tested symptomatic or asymptomatic and I was told that everybody wants COVID.”

We also reached out to the private company that runs the Irwin County Detention Center, LaSalle corrections.

A spokesperson did not respond.

The CEO of the company, Rodney Cooper, did testify under oath in a virtual congressional hearing over the summer.

“We have not had any detainees succumb to COVID-19. I think that speaks for itself,” Cooper told the House Homeland Security Committee in July.

According to ICE data, there have been 43 positive COVID-19 cases at Irwin County Detention Center through September 14th.

The Homeland Security Inspector General is the agency’s internal, independent watchdog.

Its investigators will now look into the allegations in Wooten’s complaint.

Gray received the following statement from Dr. Ada Rivera, Medical Director of the ICE Health Service Corps.

"The accusations will be fully investigated by an independent office, however, ICE vehemently disputes the implication that detainees are used for experimental medical procedures. ICE’s mission is to protect the homeland and to swiftly and quickly remove people from the country; the health, welfare and safety of ICE detainees is one of the agency’s highest priorities, any assertion or claim to the contrary is false and intentionally misleading.

All female ICE detainees receive routine, age-appropriate gynecological and obstetrical health care, consistent with recognized community guidelines for women’s health services. According to U.S. Immigration and Enforcement (ICE) data, since 2018, only two individuals at Irwin County Detention Center were referred to certified, credentialed medical professionals at gynecological and obstetrical health care facilities for hysterectomies in compliance with National Commission on Correctional Health Care (NCCHC) standards. Based on their evaluations, these specialists recommended hysterectomies. These recommendations were reviewed by the facility clinical authority and approved.

To be clear, medical care decisions concerning detainees are made by medical personnel, not by law enforcement personnel. Detainees are afforded informed consent, and a medical procedure like a hysterectomy would never be performed against a detainee’s will.

All medical professionals certainly have a duty to report any issues of concern through appropriate channels, such as making a report to the Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General (OIG); however, it is unfortunate that those involved in this report have chosen to first go to the media with their allegations, without allowing the government to examine or take appropriate action.

Out of respect for the process of matters pending before the OIG, ICE does not comment prematurely on reported allegations, and ICE intends to fully cooperate with any resulting investigation by the OIG."

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