Originally Published in The Washington Post
Nick Miroff - September 22, 2020
According to a complaint filed last week by immigrant advocates and attorneys, a former nurse who worked at the Irwin County Detention Center, Dawn Wooten, claimed that a doctor known as “the uterus collector” was subjecting female ICE detainees to unwanted hysterectomies. The doctor was later identified in news reports as Amin. Through attorneys, he has denied the accusations, and calls to his office were not answered Tuesday.
Clark said hospital records show that Wooten’s claims are “demonstrably false.”
“These allegations are disturbing and sensational, but they are not supported by reality,” said Clark, speaking by phone from Nashville. “Dr. Amin is a longtime member of the Irwin County Hospital medical staff and has been in good standing for the entirety of his service to the Irwin County community.”
The allegations of forced sterilizations received significant attention from lawmakers, news organizations and human rights groups last week. Attorneys who represent several women have come forward to say that their clients received gynecological treatments from Amin that they did not agree to or fully understand, including one former Irwin detainee, Pauline Binam. Binam said that one of her fallopian tubes was removed without consent.
Binam’s deportation to Cameroon was halted last week at the behestof Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Tex.).
Amin has a private clinic near the detention facility, but the hospital is the only place where such a procedure would be performed in small Irwin County, Clark said. Amin does not have an ownership stake in the hospital, contrary to some news reports, Clark said.
The Department of Homeland Security has initiated its own investigation into the accusations from Irwin. On Monday, Democratic lawmakers from the House Homeland Security committee released a report alleging inadequate medical care at numerous facilities, but the Irwin detention center was not one of the sites the committee inspected.
Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-N.J.), one of the lawmakers who participated in a virtual hearing Monday to discuss the ICE report, called Wooten’s allegations of sterilization procedures on ICE detainees “one of the most inhumane things I have ever heard.”
Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) wrote a letter signed by 173 lawmakers demanding a DHS inspector general investigation.
“There may be at minimum 17 to 18 women who were subjected to unnecessary medical gynecological procedures from just this one doctor, often without appropriate consent or knowledge, and with the clear intention of sterilization,” Jayapal said.
In a subsequent interview, Jayapal acknowledged that she did not know the details of each of those cases, but the number she cited referred to the clients of attorneys with whom she had spoken.
The advocacy group that filed the complaint, Project South, did not make the hysterectomy allegations the focus of its Sept. 14 complaint to DHS, a complaint that alleged there is poor medical care and novel coronavirus risks at the ICE facility. But it was the allegations of forced sterilizations that triggered a firestorm.
“The rate at which the hysterectomies have occurred have been a red flag for Ms. Wooten and other nurses at ICDC,” the Project South complaint said, without identifying other nurses.
According to Project South, “Ms. Wooten explained: ‘We’ve questioned among ourselves like goodness he’s taking everybody’s stuff out. . . . That’s his specialty, he’s the uterus collector. I know that’s ugly . . . is he collecting these things or something. . . . Everybody he sees, he’s taking all their uteruses out or he’s taken their tubes out.’ ”
Priyanka Bhatt, the attorney at Project South who was the lead investigator for the complaint, said in an interview with The Washington Post that she did not speak to or identify any women who had undergone a hysterectomy. Bhatt said she included the allegations to spark an investigation into their validity.
The legal director at Project South, Azadeh Shahshahani, said by email Tuesday: “We have already heard from multiple attorneys representing numerous women who have suffered abuses reflected by Ms. Wooten’s whistleblowing disclosures. Some of these women are considering speaking up because Ms. Wooten courageously stepped forward. There has been a troubling pattern of misreporting on the health and welfare of detained immigrants held inside ICE facilities, and we look forward to Congress, the Inspector General, and all other relevant offices conducting a full investigation and applying immediate, necessary, corrective actions.”
ICE said its own records show that two female detainees at Irwin have been referred for hysterectomies since 2018. Officials at ICE said the agency would have records of such procedures, which would require the approval of a supervising medical officer at the agency. ICE officials say they are cooperating with investigators.