Biden Is Breaking With ICE Facility at Center of Gynecological Surgery Scandal

The move follows allegations of questionable gynecological surgery performed on migrant women.
The Irwin detention facility run by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)​ in Georgia.
The Irwin detention facility run by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in Georgia. (Juanita Ceballos/VICE News)

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The Biden administration is cutting ties with the migrant detention facility in Georgia at the heart of a political firestorm over allegations of non-consensual or unnecessary gynecological procedures on women. 

The Department of Homeland Security said in a statement to VICE News on Thursday that DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas ordered U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to discontinue using the Irwin facility “as soon as possible and consistent with any legal obligations.” The move follows the launch of a federal investigation into widespread claims about questionable operations on multiple women, which sparked outrage in Congress and furious legal maneuvering from immigration lawyers to stop the deportation of potential witnesses. 

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The statement added: “The preparations will include preservation of evidence for ongoing investigations, relocation of ICE personnel if necessary, and the transfer of detained noncitizens whose continued detention remains necessary to achieve our national security, public safety, and border security mission.” 

The announcement marks the latest chapter in a controversy that first erupted in September, when a whistleblower report alleged a pattern of “jarring medical neglect” and confusing medical care at the Irwin facility, sparking nationwide scrutiny. Since then, more than 50 women have stepped forward to raise questions or complaints about their medical treatment. 

In October, a report drafted by a team of independent doctors and experts, including some of the country’s top OB-GYNs, found a “disturbing pattern” of controversial gynecological surgical procedures performed on female detainees at the detention center. The medical professionals said they reviewed more than 3,200 pages of records from 19 women who “allege medical maltreatment during detention” at the Irwin facility. 

The report alleged that a number of women were pressured to have “unnecessary surgery” without an adequate discussion about the risks, benefits, or alternatives.

Immigrant rights advocates and their Democratic allies in Congress hailed Thursday’s announcement, which was first reported by The Washington Post, as a victory. 

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“I am glad to see the facility closing, but I will not stop fighting for full accountability for what happened and for real justice for all of the women impacted,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal, a Democrat from Washington who has championed the cause of women detained at Irwin, in a statement

The move may prove complicated, however, since the Irwin facility is run by a private company under contract with ICE. A spokesperson for ICE declined to comment, and referred questions back to DHS. The Irwin County Detention Center is run by the private prison company LaSalle Corrections and houses immigrants detained by ICE. LaSalle Corrections has denied wrongdoing in the past, and did not immediately respond to questions about the DHS announcement from VICE News on Thursday.

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“We have an obligation to make lasting improvements to our civil immigration detention system,” Secretary Mayorkas said in a statement. “DHS detention facilities and the treatment of individuals in those facilities will be held to our health and safety standards. Where we discover they fall short, we will continue to take action as we are doing today.”     

Three agencies are jointly leading the investigation: the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Criminal Section of the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division. 

Mayorkas also directed ICE to discontinue use of another facility in Massachusetts, the C. Carlos Carreiro Immigration Detention Center, according to the statement. The Post reported that the facility, located in North Dartmouth, is also under federal investigation for complaints of abuses against immigrants.