Over the past few months, dozens of immigrant women detained at an Immigrations and Customs Enforcement facility have come forward with allegations regarding medical abuse. Despite an ongoing federal investigation, ICE began allegedly deporting some of these women, prompting immediate backlash from lawyers and advocates. Now, the Trump administration will stop deporting the women who say they were abused at an ICE facility.
The allegations center around the performance of nonconsensual or medically unnecessary hysterectomies at the Irwin County Detention Center in Georgia. These came to light in September after a whistleblower complaint was filed on behalf of Dawn Wooten, a nurse who formerly worked at the facility, by several legal advocacy groups. Later reporting by Prism and The Intercept identified Mahendra Amin, a gynecologist based in Douglas, Georgia, as the doctor at the center of the complaints.
Since the complaint was filed, the number of women who said they were medically abused grew to at least 43. Reports prompted the Department of Homeland Security's inspector general to start a federal investigation. But Caitlin Lowell, a law student at Columbia Law School's Immigrants' Rights Clinic, told BuzzFeed News earlier this month that of the 17 women who were still detained, only one received a request from federal investigators for an interview. Meanwhile, ICE was preparing to deport seven more.
But on Thursday, the Trump administration filed a motion in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Georgia. Per NPR, any of the victims — or those with "substantially similar factual allegations" — will not be deported, and further court proceedings will not take place until after the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden.
The news was celebrated by lawyers involved with the case. Elora Mukherjee, director of the Immigrants' Rights Clinic at Columbia Law School and a lawyer for two of the women alleging medical abuse, told Vice, "This is an acknowledgement by the federal government that it is critically important that these women have a meaningful opportunity to participate in the federal investigation related to medical atrocities at Irwin."
When reports of ICE deporting women involved in the case arose, the agency originally denied that it was interfering with the investigation in any way. A spokesperson told BuzzFeed News that, "ICE has been notifying the DHS [inspector general] ... about any planned transfers or removals of Irwin detainees who were former patients of Dr. Amin, and is fully supporting the efforts by both the DHS [inspector general] and DOJ Civil Rights Division."
However, it's hard to see deportations taking place amidst an investigation and not think there's something fishy going on. Especially when key witnesses are being targeted. At the start of 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. Another key witness, Ana Cajigal Adan, was also nearly deported until Rep. Hank Johnson, a Georgia Democrat, intervened.
In response, over 100 Democratic lawmakers, including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) wrote a letter demanding that ICE release the women involved in the case and give them the opportunity to apply for U-visas. In their letter, the lawmakers 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."
While it's good to see that deportations have stopped, there remain a few key issues. First, the Irwin County Detention Center itself has been a site of trouble for years. The facility, operated by Louisiana-based private prison company LaSalle Corrections, has an established track record of human rights violations, including horrific abuse allegations that arose last year.
But most importantly, ICE and its atrocities are not unique to President Trump and his administration. It's unclear what will happen to these women when the Biden administration comes into power.