The Trials of a Whistle-blower
As a nurse at the Irwin County Detention Center—a Georgia facility run by LaSalle Corrections, a private company operating an immigration-detention contract with ICE—Dawn Wooten became aware of some frightening violations, including numerous hysterectomies and other medical procedures performed without patient consent. When she asked questions, she was demoted and eventually pushed out. Wooten supplied critical information for two complaints about I.C.D.C., which were submitted to the Office of Inspector General at the Department of Homeland Security. The complaints were first reported in The Intercept in September, 2020, and then covered widely in the national press. Last May, in a victory for Wooten, the detained women who spoke up about their mistreatment, and the advocacy groups that had fought on their behalf, ICE ended its I.C.D.C. contract with LaSalle. Wooten’s own troubles, however, had just begun. Receiving death threats and kidnapping threats, she and her five children stayed under security in a series of hotels. Her whistle-blower-retaliation complaint with the federal government is still awaiting a finding, as the Office of the Inspector General has requested two extensions on its legally required deadlines. Meanwhile, Wooten found that hardly anyone would hire a nurse who had made front-page headlines: despite her twelve years of experience, she was rejected from more than a hundred jobs during a national nursing shortage. She couldn’t get hired at McDonald’s. Wooten, and the detained women who shared their stories at great risk, are still awaiting justice. For Sarah Stillman, who covers immigration for The New Yorker, Wooten’s case draws attention to the fact that low-wage whistle-blowers, in particular, can face almost insurmountable obstacles to coming forward to expose wrongdoing.