Despite the prison’s attempt to whitewash over its abuses, Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) and House Judiciary Committee (HJC) members heard firsthand accounts from detained women, who described forced procedures and threats of retaliation by officials for speaking out about abuses at the prison.
“The stories and scenes inside theIrwin County Detention Center were horrific,” CHC chair Joaquin Castro of Texas said in a statement. “Women showed us the medical documents of gynecological procedures that they never gave consent for or fully understood. Women told us that they often refused medical care out of fear of never being able to have children. One woman described the experience being detained as torture. And make no mistake, this facility is prison.”
Rep. Raul Ruiz, an emergency room doctor from California, told the AP that some women were told they had COVID-19 and thrown into solitary for as long as 30 days—“far longer, he said, than necessary to quarantine for the virus”—apparently as retaliation for exposing the abuses going on inside Irwin. ICE has a history of threatening detainees: In 2018, ICE allegedly threw a woman into solitary for 60 hours in an attempt to force her to recant sexual abuse claims. Then last week, an investigation by the House Homeland Security Committee found officials also threatened others for daring to ask for medical assistance.
“Spoke to women detained in ICE’s prison here in Irwin County about the horrors they face,” Barragán continued. “Many more wrote letters, because they were afraid to speak up or because we didn’t have enough time to talk to everyone. (And delayed for not allowing phones) Their stories break my heart.” The anguish was palpable in one of the Spanish-language letters shared by Barragán. “It’s now been a long time we asked, shouting HELP,” the letter read. “You all don’t know everything we’ve suffered. Someone should stop it.”
Spoke to women detained in ICE’s prison here in Irwin County about the horrors they face.
Many more wrote letters, because they were afraid to speak up or because we didn’t have enough time to talk to everyone. (And delayed for not allowing phones)
Their stories break my heart. pic.twitter.com/FJA4rrc6L9
— Nanette D. Barragán (@RepBarragan) September 26, 2020
“Just left the Irwin County Detention Center,” tweeted Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington. “After hearing from women who were sent to the same doctor, it’s clear they were having unnecessary medical procedures done to them without their knowledge or consent. This is horrendous.” Journalist Tanvi Misra tweeted that Jayapal said during a press call immediately after the visit that she’d “spoken to 8 women who have been subject to invasive medical procedures ‘without consent or knowledge.’”
Just left the Irwin County Detention Center. After hearing from women who were sent to the same doctor, it’s clear they were having unnecessary medical procedures done to them without their knowledge or consent. This is horrendous.
We’re not going to stop investigating this. pic.twitter.com/tjEOVQCxUF
— Rep. Pramila Jayapal (@RepJayapal) September 26, 2020
The Irwin facility, operated by private prison profiteer LaSalle Corrections, already has a horrendous history of abuses against detainees. In 2018, “a 20-page report on conditions at Irwin revealed how officers at Irwin placed immigrants in solitary confinement for as long as six months,” Atlanta Magazine said, as well as “subjected them to forced labor without just compensation,” and “discriminated on the basis of gender, religion, and national origin.” Yet, Irwin still has the gall to order around federal legislators. Why are they allowed to do that? And remember it’s a rule that’s not equally enforced, after Iowa’s leading white supremacist Steve King shared a video of himself inside a border facility last year.
“Shut down all private, for-profit detention facilities,” Jayapal tweeted. Agreed—the federal contracts must end.
“The DHS Inspector General must investigate, the FBI should look into any criminal misconduct, and Congress will keep demanding answers and accountability for all wrongdoing,” Castro continued. “Women who speak up about what they experienced or witnessed must not be retaliated against or deported—they must be released. The conditions of immigrants in U.S. government custody will remain a top CHC priority, and we’re calling on ICE to swiftly and safely release people detained.”