New lawsuit amplifies claims of medical abuse at Georgia ICE jail

The Irwin County Detention Center in Ocilla, Georgia. Women detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement say in a lawsuit they've been victims of medical abuse. (Aileen Perilla/The New York Times)

The Irwin County Detention Center in Ocilla, Georgia. Women detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement say in a lawsuit they've been victims of medical abuse. (Aileen Perilla/The New York Times)

One woman described her examination by Dr. Mahendra Amin as “the most medical way of being raped you could possibly experience.”

Another alleged Amin jammed several fingers into her vagina and administered a transvaginal ultrasound without consent — or lubrication.

Yet another averted an unwanted hysterectomy only because she tested positive for COVID-19 minutes before Amin was scheduled to operate on her.

In a federal lawsuit filed this week, these women and dozens more allege a pattern of medical abuse, harsh retaliation and unsanitary conditions at a the Irwin County Detention Center, an immigration jail in Ocilla, about 200 miles south of Atlanta. Their stories amplify a whistleblower’s claims of systematic medical misconduct at the privately operated facility and present a damning portrait of Amin, a gynecologist accused of performing procedures that left detainees bleeding, bruised, traumatized and, in some cases, unable to have children.

About 40 current and former detainees have provided sworn statements detailing what they perceived as abusive treatment by Amin, and more have shared similar accounts with immigration lawyers, said Azadeh Shahshahani, legal director of Project South, an Atlanta-based advocacy group that is working on the lawsuit.

“Filing the whistleblower complaint opened the door for more and more women to come forward from all over the world,” Shahshahani said in an interview. “There’s no telling how many people suffered medical abuse while at Irwin.”

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which uses the Irwin County facility to hold undocumented immigrants awaiting deportation, has not responded to the lawsuit. The agency’s inspector general is investigating medical care at Irwin, as are federal law-enforcement officials and members of Congress.

Amin’s lawyer, Scott Grubman, did not respond to a request for comment on Tuesday. Grubman has previously denied wrongdoing by Amin, saying the physician performed only medically necessary procedures and only with patients’ consent.

But in graphic, excruciating detail, lawyers for the detainees portrayed medical examinations and procedures as assaults that traumatized many of the women, particularly those with a history of sexual abuse. One woman said being treated by Amin was like “being raped again.”

Jaromy Floriano Navarro, a 28-year-old Mexican national detained at Irwin for almost a year, was taken to Amin after complaining of heavy menstrual cramps. During the examination, according to court papers, Amin “rested one hand on her knee while he inspected her vaginal area and inside her body. … He would switch between inserting his fingers and inserting an ultrasound wand inside her body.”

Amin told Floriano Navarro she needed a minor procedure to drain an ovarian cyst. Only later, as nurses prepared her for surgery in the Irwin County Hospital, Floriano Navarro learned that Amin was about to perform a hysterectomy instead, the suit alleges. The surgery was called off when Floriano Navarro tested positive for COVID-19. During a later appointment with the doctor, according to court papers, Amin “berated” her for resisting the hysterectomy.

When Floriano Navarro returned to the detention center, guards demanded to know whether she had been among the women cited in the whistleblower complaint, according to court papers. She acknowledged she was — and was deported less than 24 hours later. She is in Mexico now, separated from her children in the United States.

Other detainees said guards placed them in solitary confinement after they complained about Amin. Some said that after they underwent Amin’s procedures, the detention center refused to furnish supplies to prevent infection of their surgical incisions. One woman had a staph infection and a yeast infection when she was deported days after Amin performed surgery, according to court papers, and another woman who experienced heavy vaginal bleeding after seeing Amin said a guard refused to replace her soiled underpants.

Last month, a federal judge ordered immigration officials to stop deporting women from Irwin who are cooperating with law-enforcement or congressional investigators.

Immigration advocates, who have called for shutting down the detention center, hope to find a receptive audience in President-elect Joe Biden’s administration. Shahshahani said the sheer number of women who have reported medical abuse should make a convincing argument.

“The whole picture is really disturbing,” she said. “It pains me to know there could be many more women out there in all parts of the world who will never be able to speak out about what happened to them.”