By Egan Millard
Episcopal News Service

A priest who works to support immigrants detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement at a private facility in Georgia says a whistleblower’s account of medical abuse there – including hysterectomies performed without proper consent – is supported by her own interactions with the detainees.

The Rev. Leeann Culbreath

The Rev. Leeann Culbreath, a priest in the Diocese of Georgia, has worked with and advocated for detainees at Irwin County Detention Center in south-central Georgia since 2016 …

The aspect of the [whistleblower’s] complaint that has received the most attention is the report of unusually high rates of hysterectomies performed on detainees, many of whom did not fully understand why the procedure was done or were given conflicting descriptions of what would be done to them, raising a host of ethical concerns. …

The reports have drawn comparisons to past instances of forced sterilization in the United States and even in Nazi Germany. …

Culbreath visits detainees, building relationships and accompanying them through the tedious and difficult immigration process. Over the years, the detainees have shared their accounts of the “dehumanizing” conditions with her.

“The conditions are abysmal. It’s crowded. It’s dirty,” Culbreath told ENS. She mostly meets with detainees in a separate visiting area, but she has toured the facility and seen the conditions firsthand.

“You’d have 100 women in an open, two-story dorm with maybe four toilets, four shower nozzles, drinking fountains. They don’t even give them water cups. They have to buy those from the commissary if they want a cup for drinking water.”

The meals consist of poor-quality processed foods, with meat once a week and very few fresh vegetables or fruit, detainees have told her. Sometimes there are bugs in the food. Solitary confinement is used for punishment. And the conditions have only worsened since the COVID-19 pandemic hit, she said.

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