Increasing Funding for ICE & CBP is Pouring Gasoline on a Blazing Constitutional Fire

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The shocking disclosures by Dawn Wooten, LPN, a nurse turned whistleblower, about dangerous and unethical medical practices, including mass hysterectomies, at an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facility in Georgia have once again turned attention to the appalling way ICE treats people in its custody. Her allegations encompass a variety of health and safety violations, including but not limited to: failing to isolate detained immigrants who had confirmed or suspected cases of COVID-19, performing hysterectomies and other procedures  without informed consent, refusing to test symptomatic detained immigrants for COVID-19, and failing to provide personal protective equipment (PPE) to medical and correctional staff who have close and prolonged contact with detained immigrants with confirmed cases of COVID-19. This is not to mention the overall systematic undercounting and underreporting of COVID-19 cases at ICDC made possible by fabrication of medical records.

This week, Government Accountability Project and Project South sent a letter to Congress outlining the Department of Homeland Security Inspector General complaint from Ms. Wooten, regarding the egregious health practices at the Irwin County Detention Center (ICDC) in Ocilla, Georgia.

Members of Congress are calling for an immediate investigation, but they should also need to stop funding these atrocities. The budgets for U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and ICE are historically overfunded and bloated. Since the inception of DHS, ICE’s budget has more than doubled and CBP’s has tripled. The agencies are notoriously careless with the taxpayer funds Congress appropriates them.

“We have documented conditions at Irwin for many years,” said Azadeh Shahshahani, Project South Legal & Advocacy Director, who also serves as co-counsel to Ms. Wooten (and is a member of the DRAD Board of Directors). “The treatment of immigrants at this prison has always been horrid. These new shocking revelations further highlight the extent of the egregious abuses at the facility. The fact that Black and brown immigrant women are held in an extremely vulnerable position at this prison where they have no control over their bodies and no say about what is done to them is sickening.”

For years, ICE has employed unethical and inhumane tactics in its aggressive deportation and detention operations in border communities and cities across the country. And in recent months, in response to nationwide protests to police brutality and racial injustice, CBP has supplied many of the federal agents who have used violent tactics to suppress protests in cities like Portland and the District of Columbia.

CBP and ICE must urgently be reined in — and that starts by halting additional taxpayer dollars funding their deadly efforts at the border or their repressive efforts in our streets. The consequence of increasing funding for these agencies – which continues already astronomical funding levels for CBP and ICE – could be deadly for countless immigrants, terrorizing for the millions who call the border region home, and potentially silencing for the people across the country now confronting armed CBP officials at political protests. Increased funding of these activities and these agencies would be reckless. 

“The blatant disregard for the health and safety of both detainees and ICE employees at Irwin County Detention Center is appalling,” said John Whitty, Government Accountability Project Staff Attorney and another co-counsel for Ms. Wooten. “We ask Congress to recognize this failure on the part of ICE detention to adequately care for its detainees and employees and to act so that these violations do not continue to threaten the health of those within ICE detention.”

To take action and tell Congress to reject additional funding for ICE and CBP in the upcoming CR, click here.