Several immigrant women were deported back to their country of origin missing vital organs as well as a chance at the American dream. Immigrant women detained in a Georgia ICE facility had to endure a COVID-19 outbreak and a series of unneeded gynecological surgeries reported Vice News, as well as The New York Times.
The Irwin County Detention Center in Ocilla came under scrutiny when a whistleblower and multiple women spoke to the press and immigrant advocacy groups about their ordeal.
In September, Dawn Wooten, a former nurse at the facility, filed a whistleblower complaint, along with Project South, a Georgia nonprofit, and another legal advocacy group, with the Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security. After interviewing multiple women who were detained between October and December 2019 and several others, Wooten and the advocacy groups discovered two women who said they had undergone hysterectomies and didn’t know why. Other women had different surgeries and procedures, all by one particular gynecologist who has a practice outside the facility, according to Vice News.
Wendy Dowe, an immigrant from Jamaica, had lived in the U.S. for 20 years before she was picked up by ICE and placed in a Georgia detention center. Dowe told the New York Times that she had been in ICE custody for four months when she was suddenly told she was scheduled for surgery one day.
The local gynecologist who treated patients at the Irwin County detention center told her large cysts and masses were causing her cramps and needed to be removed. Though skeptical of the diagnosis, she was handcuffed and brought to the hospital.
Later after she was deported to Jamaica, she had her medical files from Irwin reviewed by several other doctors. X-ray images of her internal organs revealed her uterus had looked normal before surgery, not swollen with large masses as the Irwin doctor had claimed. She could have been treated with less invasive procedures.
“I didn’t have to do any of it,” Ms. Dowe told the New York Times reporter.
Some of the detained women shared that they felt like they were in a concentration camp and that the detention centers were experimenting with their bodies.
“We’ve questioned among ourselves, like, goodness, he’s taking everybody’s stuff out,” said Wooten. “That’s his specialty.” Wooten learned one woman had to go back to the doctor after he removed the wrong ovary, then her other ovary was taken out.
“Everybody he sees, he’s taking all their uteruses out or he’s taken their tubes out. What in the world?” Wooten exclaimed to the Vice News reporter. Not only had the detained women had to endure unnecessary surgeries, but in August, 41 detainees tested positive for COVID-19. Advocates believe the numbers are now higher.
According to the filed complaint, the plaintiffs alleged that it’s impossible to socially distance in the facility, that the detention center lacked personal protective equipment (PPE) and that the group has received only one mask each since the outbreak. Detained immigrants also alleged they were given no cleaning supplies, and they were not tested for weeks. In addition, people were transferred in and out of the facility against the medical director’s advice and the Centers for Disease Control guidelines, reported Vice News.
The New York Times interviewed 16 women, who were concerned about the gynecological care they received at the detention center. Seven of them were able to obtain their medical records, which allowed for detailed reviews. The 16 women had been treated by Dr. Mahendra Amin, the detention center’s “primary gynecologist.”
Later, five other gynecologists reviewed the records and found that Dr. Amin consistently overstated the size or risks of cysts or masses in patients’ reproductive organs. Small or benign cysts do not typically call for surgical intervention, they said.
In almost every chart, Dr. Amin listed symptoms such as heavy bleeding with clots and chronic pelvic pain, which could justify surgery. But the women told the Times reporters that they hadn’t experienced or reported these symptoms to him.
Dr.Amin insists that he did not perform unnecessary procedures at Irwin or operate on women without their consent, reports The Intercept.com. Scott Grubman, the lawyer who represents Amin, told The Intercept that “federal HIPAA regulations” — privacy rules — “prohibit Dr. Amin from commenting on any care that he may or may not have provided to a patient.”
Dr. Sara Imershein, a clinical professor at George Washington University and the Washington, D.C., chair of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, described Amin’s diagnoses and procedures as “poorly supported” and “not well documented,” according to the Times.
The Times also reported that “even if the patients had reported the symptoms recorded by Dr. Amin, ‘there would have been many avenues to pursue before rushing to surgery,’ Imershein said. ‘Advil for one.’”