Striving for hope and change amid human rights atrocities

Americans are exhausted. In just a few months, we have lost heroes like John Lewis and Ruth Bader Ginsburg in addition to facing the consequences stemming from America’s failure to control the fatal Covid-19 pandemic. Despite our frustration, we must not lose sight of the human rights violations our very own country continues to commit.

On September 14th, Dawn Wooten alleged that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) was performing mass hysterectomies on immigrant women, the majority of whom were from Spanish-speaking countries. Wooten had been a practical nurse at the Irwin County Detention center in Georgia. In addition to ICE forcibly performing the removal of women’s uteri at the detention center, she claimed that ICE employees failed to medically address the Covid-19 pandemic in the detention center. Wooten claims that the detention center refused to test detainees with symptoms and failed to adequately protect detainees against the fatal virus. One detainee compared the conditions at Irwin to a concentration camp, saying, “they are experimenting with our bodies.” 

Multiple immigrants’ rights organizations such as Project South and the Latino Alliance for Human Rights elevated Wooten’s allegations by filing an official complaint with the Department of Homeland Security on behalf of the detainees at the Irwin detention center as well as Wooten. DHS conducted an investigation immediately after Wooten made her allegations. After reading Wooten’s allegations, Mia Colaizzi ‘22, a member of the  Burke Talks club, noted the hypocrisy of living in a country that calls itself the land of opportunity, yet is treating human beings in a fashion that would be deemed unacceptable to do to an animal. 

The atrocities occurring at the United States border are horrifying and difficult to process. As the country digests this news, many Burke students are forming opinions regarding the recent allegations. “My initial reaction was horrified because I have heard about this stuff being performed on people and empathy wise I can side with these women and I can only imagine how horrible that feels,” said Natalie Thorpe ‘21, leader of Burke Talks. Because these hysterectomies are invasive vaginal procedures being performed without consent, they could be considered a form of rape. “It’s another form of a man taking control of a woman’s body without their consent,” said Thorpe. She also discussed the gender imbalances in the medical field, where the majority of medical specialties are over 65% men. One issue with this is that male doctors often assume what is right for their female patients. “That seems so often in the medical world, where male doctors in a male-dominated field assume what is right for a patient, especially a woman,” noted Thorpe.

It’s hard to find a solution due to the isolation of the detention centers and the abundance of atrocities occurring there. “It is a very rural issue which is separated from everything else,” said Colaizzi. However, if we maintain this mentality then we cannot expect things to change. “If we got this issue more into the mainstream media … we could raise awareness for the women at the border,” she said. 

We can start this process by contacting our local representatives and encouraging them to establish standards for how humans are being treated at our border. Many students in the DMV are under the impression that the border crisis does not directly affect our community. However, there are 2 detention centers within an hour of Washington, D.C where you can volunteer to provide detainees with moral support. You can also get involved by donating goods to private shelters that provide assistance to immigrants who have been victims of our failed immigration system. In addition, Colaizzi pointed out that there is hope in the election of a new administration, one which will ensure a new reality of security for women in America.