Originally Published in Newsweek
Rebecca Speare-Cole - October 23, 2020
Nineteen women in a Georgia immigration detention center have alleged that a doctor performed or pressured them into "unnecessary" gynecological surgeries, including procedures that affect fertility.
The women have come forward after a nurse at the Irwin County Detention Center last month filed a 27-page whistleblower complaint on medical abuses at the facility. It prompted a national outcry, and led to federal investigations and congressional inquiries.
All 19 women were patients of Dr. Mahendra Amin, the primary gynecologist at the facility, according to a five-page report seen by the LA Times, which was submitted to members of Congress on Thursday.
The report was written by team of OB-GYNs and nursing experts who had reviewed more than 3,200 pages of the women's records, according to the publication.
They wrote that records showed an "alarming pattern" where Amin subjected women to unwarranted gynecological surgeries, often without consent.
Some of the women have yet to be told what procedures were performed on them due to incomplete records and efforts to obstruct the team's requests for the documents, the report said.
Azedeh Shahshahani, a legal director at Project South who helped file the original complaint, told Newsweek: "These shocking revelations further highlight the extent of the egregious abuses at the Irwin County Detention Center.
"The fact that Black and brown immigrant women are held in an extremely vulnerable position at this prison where they have no control over their bodies and no say about what is done to them is sickening."
Shahshahani called for the center to be shut down immediately and those detained to be freed.
She said: "The United States Government as well as the private prison corporation running this prison should be held accountable."
Tony Pham, spokesman for the director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) told Newsweek the allegations raise "serious concerns that deserve to be investigated quickly and thoroughly."
He said that ICE welcomes the review and that individuals found to have violated its policies and procedures should be held accountable.
He said: "If there is any truth to these allegations, it is my commitment to make the corrections necessary to ensure we continue to prioritize the health, welfare and safety of ICE detainees."
On September 14, Dawn Wooten, a registered nurse who worked full-time at the Irwin County Detention Center until July, filed a complaint to the Homeland Security's Office of Inspector General by a coalition of advocacy groups.
She claimed to have seen "jarring medical neglect" at the facility, including refusals to test symptomatic detained immigrants for coronavirus, the shredding of medical requests and the fabrication medical records.
But the complaint also said it "raises red flags regarding the rate at which hysterectomies are performed on immigrant woman" at the detention center.
In the complaint, Wooten said several women had told her that their uteruses had been removed without their consent.
The document included the testimony of one detainee, which said her medical treatment had left her shaken and confused and that it "felt like they were trying to mess with my body."
She claimed she had been given several different explanations of the procedure she would undergo, from the removal of her womb to having tissue scrapped off. Ultimately the hospital declined to operate because she tested positive for coronavirus antibodies.
In an interview with The Intercept, which first reported on the complaint, Wooten said: "You don't want to see what you're seeing. You're responsible for the lives of others."
The complaint was filed by the advocacy organizations Project South, Georgia Detention Watch, Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights and the South Georgia Immigrant Support Network.
The day after it was filed, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats demanded an investigation into the claims.
Pelosi said in a statement: "If true, the appalling conditions described in the whistleblower complaint—including allegations of mass hysterectomies being performed on vulnerable immigrant women—are a staggering abuse of human rights."
Since then, data released by Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Irwin County Hospital show two full hysterectomies were performed in the last three years, according to The New York Times.
Meanwhile, a team of experts carried out the latest review with a coalition of advocates and lawyers representing the women, including the Southern Poverty Law Center's Southeast Immigrant Freedom Initiative, the American Immigration Lawyers Association and Innovation Law Lab.
The report detailed allegations of 19 women who felt pressured by Amin or were operated on without consent.
Newsweek has contacted all the organizations involved for comment and is working to obtain a copy of the report.
What the report alleges
The women under Amin's care underwent procedures without their consent, including the removal of their uterus, ovaries and fallopian tubes, according to the report and The Times' interviews with the alleged victims.
The five-page document reportedly states: "Both Dr. Amin and the referring detention facility took advantage of the vulnerability of women in detention to pressure them to agree to overly aggressive, inappropriate, and unconsented medical care."
Patients, who had non-gynaecological complaints like a belly button hernia or rib pain, were reportedly referred to Amin who pressured them into, or performed medically unnecessary procedures without their consent.
The report allegedly says that Amin performed a transvaginal ultrasound on a 35-year-old woman, who had previously undergone a hysterectomy so had no reproductive organs to examine.
The Times said that according to the report's authors, as well as the women and their lawyers, several were not given their medical records.
The report also said that the records produced by the detention center, Irwin County Hospital and Amin, "appear to be incomplete" and they have continued to obstruct medical records requests so that many of the women do not know what was done to them.
What the women have said
One woman, Amanda, 28, told The LA Times that she woke from surgery chained to a hospital bed and immediately asked a nurse: "Do I still have ovaries? Can I still have kids?"
She said Amin had performed a cystectomy and "dilation and curettage" without her consent, a claim that The Times reports is backed up by her medical records.
Shereace, 34, told the publication that she had requested to see Amin after her previous doctor told her to monitor her abnormal Pap smears.
She said that after she woke up from one procedure, he told her she had "damaged" fallopian tubes and that she would never be able to have children. Without the money to pay for a doctor, she is still not sure what Amin did to her.
Wendy Dowe, 48, who was deported to Jamaica in May after more than 20 years in the U.S., said that the detention facility, "treat you like you're not human."
She said she had to write to Amin's medical office to ask what type of surgery she had.
Dowe told The Times that she refused to get a hysterectomy after Amin and others asked her: "How many kids you got? Well, I don't see why you can't take it out."
Yuridia, a 36-year-old immigrant from Mexico, told The New York Times that she was suffering from a pain in her rib after a fight with her abusive ex-partner just before she was picked up by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
She told the publication that during her medical examination with Amin she assumed they were going to check her rib. "The next thing I know, he's doing a vaginal exam," she said.
In his notes, Amin reportedly wrote that Yuridia had ovarian cysts and he scheduled a surgery to remove them. He also noted that she reported heavy menstruation and pelvic pain, conditions she claims she never experienced or complained about.
She eventually underwent the surgery but pathology reports show the cysts were small and not dangerous and do not call for surgical intervention, The New York Timesreported.
What the detention center and doctor have said
Newsweek has contacted Immigration and Customs Enforcement, LaSalle Corrections, Homeland Security and Dr. Amin's lawyer, Scott Grubman for comment.
Grubman told The LA Times that Amin "strongly denies" all allegations.
He said: "We have gathered evidence and spoken with various witnesses ... who confirm that Dr. Amin always acted appropriately with patients, obtained informed consent, and used translators/interpreters whenever necessary."
"Dr. Amin is a highly respected physician who has dedicated his adult life to treating a high-risk, underserved population in rural Georgia. Dr. Amin is fully cooperating with investigators and looks forward to the investigations clearing his good name and reputation."
Scott Sutterfield, a spokesman for LaSalle Corrections, also told the paper: "We are confident the facts will demonstrate the very malicious intent of others to advance a purely political agenda.
"It is well established that LaSalle Corrections provides high quality medical services in safe, secure, and humane residential environments, and our company strongly refutes allegations to the contrary."