Ga. ICE detainees tell congressional delegation of unwanted gynecological procedures

The Rev. Leann Culbreath speaks during a protest that followed a whistleblower's complaint about unwanted gynecological procedures on women in Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody at the Irwin County Detention Center in Ocilla. JENNI GIRTMAN/For the AJC

Credit: Jenni Girtman

Credit: Jenni Girtman

Women detained in a South Georgia immigration jail told a congressional delegation Saturday they had been forced to undergo invasive gynecological procedures and faced punishment if they complained.

The women said they had been placed in solitary confinement or treated for mental illness when they reported unwanted procedures or resisted seeing the doctor who performed them. They also alleged the doctor conducted internal pelvic examinations without wearing gloves and did not explain that procedures could leave them infertile.

“This is a horror story,” said U.S. Rep. Adriano Espaillat of New York, one of 10 members of Congress, all Democrats, who toured the Irwin County Detention Center in Ocilla nearly two weeks after a whistleblower alleged detainees had been sterilized without their consent. “This facility should be shut down.”

Other members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and the House Judiciary Committee called for an investigation of Dr. Mahendra Amin, a gynecologist who has treated women in Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody since 2017. Amin said through his lawyer he had obtained patients’ consent for all procedures and examined detainees in the presence of a female guard or an employee who often acted as an interpreter.

Federal privacy regulations prevent Amin from discussing individual cases, his lawyer, Scott Grubman, said.

The allegations about Amin and the privately operated detention center reverberated nationally, in part because of one particularly explosive claim by the whistleblower, a nurse who formerly worked at the facility. She said multiple women had undergone hysterectomies without their consent, so many that detainees referred to the doctor – later identified as Amin – as the “uterus collector.”

Federal officials say Amin performed hysterectomies on just two detainees. In a radio interview last week, Ken Cuccinelli, deputy secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, said the allegation is “clearly false and should never have been made in the first place. … We take the health and welfare of even people we’re deporting very seriously.”

However, Cuccinelli did not address other procedures, such as surgeries to remove ovaries and fallopian tubes. Like hysterectomies, those operations can leave women unable to bear children. Lawyers for at least 17 detainees have told members of Congress their clients had such surgeries while at Irwin County.

The Congress members who interviewed more than 20 detainees Saturday said a pattern emerged in the women’s stories: they were told they had ovarian cysts that might be cancerous and then, without an explanation of other options for treatment, they became “the subject of forced, unnecessary procedures,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington state. Jayapal said she reviewed medical records that supported the women’s claims.

“What has happened here is horrific,” Jayapal said. “We want to ensure that no others are put in that position again.”

Rep. Raul Ruiz of California, a physician, cast doubt on the medical necessity of many surgeries.

“It is impossible that everyone there has an ovarian cyst and needs a procedure,” Ruiz said. Regardless, he said, Amin needed to make sure the detainees understood the risks they faced.

“If you take a blade to a woman’s body, you need to have informed consent,” Ruiz said. “Otherwise, it is an assault.”

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