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Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 17, 2020 / 11:30 am (CNA).- The acting director of U.S. immigration services has ordered an expedited investigation into allegations that hysterectomies were performed on immigrant women in federal custody without their full consent. 

On Monday, The Intercept reported a whistleblower complaint had been filed by several advocacy groups on behalf of a nurse at a U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention center for migrants in Georgia. 

The complaint was filed with the inspector general’s office of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). On Wednesday, National Review reported that Ken Cuccinelli, acting Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and acting Deputy Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, ordered the investigation to be expedited and said he will be conducting a separate, parallel investigation. DHS staff confirmed the report to CNA on Thursday.

The nurse, Dawn Wooten, as well as several immigrant women, claimed that an apparently high rate of hysterectomies were performed on immigrant women while in ICE custody at Irwin County Detention Center, and that some of the women did not understand the procedure they were receiving. The center is operated by the private prison company LaSalle Corrections.

Cuccinelli’s investigation will include a Coast Guard doctor, a medical nurse from the deputy secretary’s office, and a lawyer in the DHS general counsel’s office, National Review reported.

In addition to seeking confirmation, CNA also asked DHS who specifically would be part of Cuccinelli’s separate investigation, and why the parallel investigation was ordered in addition to the inspector general’s review; DHS staff did not address those questions directly.

According to the whistleblower complaint, the immigrant women were referred to one doctor in particular who was allegedly known for performing frequent hysterectomies; Wooten called the doctor “the uterus collector.” Wooten reported that some nurses could not communicate well with Spanish-speaking migrants, even resorting to using Google Translate to talk to them about medical procedures.

A senior ICE official has reportedly disputed the claims that immigrant women were allegedly subject to hysterectomies without full consent. A top ICE medical official said only two women were referred for hysterectomies at Irwin County Detention Center since 2018, according to NPR.

More than 170 members of Congress wrote the DHS inspector general’s office on Wednesday asking for an investigation.

“We are horrified to see reports of mass hysterectomies performed on detained women in the facility, without their full, informed consent and request that the Office of Inspector General (OIG) conduct an immediate investigation,” the letter stated.

The private prison company LaSalle, which operates the ICE detention center in Irwin County, is also the subject of a lawsuit filed by the family of a deceased woman Holly Barlow-Austin on Wednesday, the Washington Post reported. 

In the lawsuit, Barlow-Austin’s family members charged LaSalle with neglect by company guards at an East Texas prison, neglect that resulted in Barlow-Austin leaving the prison “blind, emaciated, and barely able to move.” The family alleges that LaSalle was culpable in Barlow-Austin’s death.