ICE, or U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, has had a long history of criticism, but the recent reports of medical mistreatment of women have shocked many around the country. The detention center facing such scrutiny is the Irwin County Detention Center in Georgia, where over twenty women have alleged gynecologist Dr. Mahendra Amin performed aggressive & unnecessary procedures without their consent.
This isn’t the first time either ICE or the Irwin detention center has faced these kinds of complaints, which have led to a series of reviews from medical professionals & investigations from Congress & news outlets. We can thank nurse Dawn Wooten, however, for first coming forward earlier this year, outlining her concerns for the patients of Dr. Amin.
Here are just a few of the stories these women have shared and what horror they faced while at the Irwin County Detention Center.
“Gross medical mistreatment”
At first, nineteen women came forward, relaying their experience at the Irwin County Detention Center in Georgia. These women said they either received or were pressured to undergo unnecessary surgeries, sometimes without their consent. When the women tried to report the medical mistreatment to ICE officers, they reportedly retaliated, threatening deportation, with six of the women already deported, according to Vice.
Since then, a total of twenty-two women, only two of whom provided their names to news outlets, have come forward. Their claims primarily target the detention center’s gynecologist Dr. Mahendra Amin, who they allege performed gynecological surgeries either aggressively or unnecessarily and without their consent, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Other accounts say Dr. Amin administered birth control & sometimes removed reproductive organs without the patient’s consent, according to the LA Times. One woman asked a nurse if she still had ovaries when she woke from surgery chained to the bed. The LA Times also reported Dr. Amin performed a procedure which “scrape[s] tissue from inside her uterus” without the patient’s signed consent.
Primarily women of color
According to the Los Angeles Times, the majority of the women are Black or Latina and come from the Caribbean, Africa, and Latin America. This isn’t an uncommon phenomenon. The Intercept found the U.S. has a long history of “forced sterilization” of women of color, especially Black, Latina, & Indigenous women, dating back to the early 20th century and was even a part of U.S. policy.
Additionally, women who primarily speak Spanish said there was only one nurse who spoke Spanish, but was “sporadically present” during exams, according to The New York Times. In addition, the report on Irwin detention center found only one signed consent in looking at thousands of pages of records, according to the LA Times. This one signed consent form was written in English by a woman who primarily spoke Spanish.
Pressures to get procedures
After news of “jarring medical neglect”, a team of doctors reviewed records and found a “disturbing pattern” of questionable procedures, according to Vice. One woman said she was pressured to sign a consent form when she tried to ask questions about a surgery Dr. Amin said was for a life-threatening ovarian cyst, according to the LA Times. She said she was told if she refused care, ICE would delay or refuse treatment in the future.
Another woman, an immigrant from Mexico, told Vice she was pressured to receive three procedures, despite not complaining of any problems. She said the people at Irwin “treat us like cattle”. The women at Irwin were told congress representatives were coming to inspect the detention center, but multiple women told Vice the guards wouldn’t let them tell the representatives their stories.
Another anonymous woman told Vice guards “intimidate” and “try to silence” their complaints, threatening punishments, including faster deportation. According to Vice, out of the twenty-two women who came forward, six were diagnosed with cysts & two were told they needed a hysterectomy.
Surprise surgeries & no consent
Wendy Dowe was deported in Jamaica despite being in the U.S. for more than twenty years. She said, “They treat you like you’re not human”, according to the LA Times. At the time, she didn’t know what type of surgery she had when she discovered bandages on her stomach. Dr. Amin later told Dowe she had a “surprise hysterectomy”, according to the LA Times, a procedure which was later found to be completely unnecessary.
Pauline Binam, the first woman to go public, said she woke up from surgery and was told Dr. Amin cut out one of her fallopian tubes without her consent, which means she can’t have children again. Binam said, “I started crying — I was in shock and a daze”, according to the LA Times. Like Dowe, Binam was about to be deported; however, she has pulled off the deportation flight after intervention from Congress.
Years of abuse
As for the Irwin County Detention Center, Dawn Wooten, the nurse whistleblower who initiated the reviews & investigations, said she had been concerned about Dr. Amin’s medical practices “for years”, according to The New York Times. Wooten said she became concerned when she noticed how many patients woke up after surgery asking what procedure they had received.
However, Wooten wasn’t the first to complain about Dr. Amin. According to the Times, in late 2018, Nancy Gonzalez Hidalgo found her experience with Dr. Amin was “so painful and traumatic” she hired lawyers to complain to the warden of the center. According to the Times, Gonzalez Hildalgo said she had a vaginal ultrasound that was so rough she was crying out in pain, but Dr. Amin ignored her.
Other women like Mileidy Cardentey Fernandez have previously said when they’ve requested their medical forms, the detention center never gave it to them, according to the Times. Enna Perez Santos managed to deny surgery, but not without major pushback & pressure from Dr. Amin. The Times asked three gynecologists about Perez Santos’ need for a procedure, and all said the surgery was “inappropriately” suggested.
Not the first report of abuse by ICE
In October 2019, the Center for American Progress published a report titled “Immigration Detention Is Dangerous for Women’s Health and Rights”. The report concluded the rights of women & girls in immigration detention are “violated repeatedly”, especially from “abuse, neglect, and the denial of comprehensive health care”.
The report also concluded “immigration detention is fundamentally incompatible with human rights and reproductive justice” and found detentions are “particularly disastrous” for women & girls’ health & rights. The report asked for an end to the “overreliance on detention” in the U.S..