The Irwin County Sheriff’s Office detention center where immigrant women said they were subjected to unwanted medical procedures is losing its contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Department of Homeland Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas announced Thursday that he is ordering ICE to press forward with relocating staff, transferring the remaining immigrant detainees who pose security risks, and preserving evidence tied to the ongoing investigations at the facility.
Like Irwin, the federal agency also will no longer house immigrants inside the detention center of Massachusetts’ Bristol County Sheriff’s Office, which is also under federal investigation.
Terminating Irwin’s contract is expected to take longer than the Bristol closure since a private contractor runs the south Georgia facility. Mayorkas instructed ICE to move as quickly as possible with Irwin.
“We have an obligation to make lasting improvements to our civil immigration detention system,” he said in a statement. “This marks an important first step to realizing that goal. 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.”
Multiple civil rights organizations praised Thursday’s announcement, calling it a positive shift in how immigrants are treated under President Joe Biden’s administration.
They also noted Irwin’s long history of violating human rights.
Last year, top U.S. House Democrats launched an investigation and advocacy groups pushed for its closure after a whistleblower complaint.
Nurse Dawn Wooten accused a doctor of forcing some women to undergo gynecological procedures, including hysterectomies, without getting their permission.
The doctor has denied any wrongdoing.
Before the 2020 whistleblower complaint, some of Irwin’s staff reported to the DHS inspector general their concerns that the facility staff was physically and verbally abusing detainees.
“Today matters because the people suffering abuse at Irwin have been seen,” Project South attorney Priyanka Bhatt said. “Yet we know that so many others within the detention and carceral system are still enduring these same abuses.
“We hope that today will serve as a first step to continuing to shut these prisons down and work towards repairing the grave harm done,” Bhatt said.
Meanwhile, a focal point of the Bristol investigations is whether the detention staff used too much force following a fight over COVID-19 testing.
“ICE maintains a nationwide system of facilities for holding noncitizens whose detention is statutorily mandated, or who pose a public safety threat or risk of flight,” ICE Acting Director Johnson. “ICE will continue to ensure it has sufficient detention space to hold noncitizens as appropriate.”