Immigration and Customs Enforcement repeatedly makes headlines for abuses or other mistreatment of detained immigrants. But in September, especially disturbing allegations arose, with claims that immigrant women received nonconsensual or medically unnecessary hysterectomies at an ICE facility. With federal investigations ongoing, attorneys now say that ICE is trying to deport witnesses in the forced sterilization case.
The original whistleblower complaint was filed by several legal advocacy groups on behalf of Dawn Wooten, a nurse who formerly worked at the Irwin County Detention Center in Georgia. Per a 2017 report by Project South, one of the organizations that filed the complaint, the facility already had an established track record of human rights violations. In addition, the facility is operated by LaSalle Corrections, a Louisiana-based private prison company that faced horrific abuse allegations last year.
While the complaint didn't name the doctor involved, Prism later reported that a source familiar with the matter identified him as Mahendra Amin, a gynecologist based in Douglas, Georgia. This detail was later further corroborated by The Intercept, which identified Amin through interviews with a detainee, two detainee advocates, and a former employee of the facility. While Amin told the outlet that he has only performed “one or two hysterectomies in the past two [or] three years," the reports prompted the Department of Homeland Security's inspector general to begin a federal investigation.
Since then, BuzzFeed News reported that the number of immigrant women who say they received these questionable procedures has grown to at least 43. Caitlin Lowell, a law student at Columbia Law School's Immigrants' Rights Clinic, told the outlet that 17 women are still detained. Only one has received a request from federal investigators for an interview. Meanwhile, ICE is preparing to deport seven more women.
"It's as if ICE is trying to clear house before the new administration comes in by deporting as many of these witnesses as soon as possible," Lowell told BuzzFeed News. "At a bare minimum, any woman ICE has a record showing they received medical care by Dr. Amin and are alleging nonconsent or medically unnecessary surgeries or procedures should be interviewed, and that hasn’t happened.”
ICE has already deported at least six women who said they were victims of Amin. And earlier this month, The Intercept reported that Alma Bowman — who has been detained at the Irwin County Detention Center for two years and served as a key witness for attorneys and journalists — was almost deported. The same thing also happened to Ana Cajigal Adan, another key witness, until Rep. Hank Johnson, a Georgia Democrat, intervened and stopped her deportation.
These reports prompted over 100 congressional Democrats to write a letter demanding that ICE not only release detainees involved in the case, but that they are also given the opportunity to apply for U-visas. These visas allow undocumented immigrants who assist law enforcement to apply to remain in the country. In their letter, the lawmakers, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) among them, wrote, "Deporting these witnesses — especially when none of them have received independent physical or mental health evaluation by experts — amounts to a de facto destruction of evidence."
In response, ICE spokeswoman Danielle Bennett told The Washington Post that ICE was "fully cooperating" with the investigation. She added, "Any implication that ICE is attempting to impede the investigation by conducting removals of those being interviewed is completely false."