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‘Like an Experimental Concentration Camp’: Whistleblower Complaint Alleges Mass Hysterectomies at ICE Detention Center

Female detainees at ICDC who in April were able to release a video complaining about the lack of proper medical treatment and poor conditions at the facility.

UPDATE, 12:11 p.m., Friday, Sept. 18: The Associated Press reported that more migrant women had come forward and alleged that they did not agree to surgical procedures, but AP also said that its review of the matter “did not find evidence of mass hysterectomies as alleged in a widely shared complaint filed by a nurse at the detention center.”

Per the AP [emphases ours]:

But a lawyer who helped file the complaint said she never spoke to any women who had hysterectomies. Priyanka Bhatt, staff attorney at the advocacy group Project South, told The Washington Post that she included the hysterectomy allegations because she wanted to trigger an investigation to determine if they were true.

“I have a responsibility to listen to the women I’ve spoken with,” Bhatt told the AP Friday. She said one woman alleged that she was repeatedly pressured to have a hysterectomy and that authorities said they would not pay for her to get a second opinion.

Members of Congress and groups representing Dawn Wooten have demanded an investigation of the nurse’s claims about “mass hysterectomies” on Irwin County Detention Center detainees.  The doctor, since identified as OB/GYN Mahendra Amin, told The Intercept he only performed “one or two hysterectomies in the past two [or] three years.”

He also denied performing surgeries without patients’ consent.

“Everything is wrong, and if you want to talk, talk to the hospital administrator,” Amin said.

Scott Grubman, a lawyer for Amin, has also “vigorously” denied the allegations in the complaint.

“We look forward to all of the facts coming out and are confident that, once they do, Dr. Amin will be cleared of wrongdoing,” Grubman said.

Amin and other doctors previously reached a settlement with the Department of Justice in 2015 after Connie Brogdon and Summer Holland filed a lawsuit “under the whistleblower provisions of the False Claims Act and the Georgia False Medicaid Claims Act,” alleging the doctors “caused false claims to be submitted to Medicare and Medicaid.”

Project South’s Legal & Advocacy Director Azadeh Shahshahani, who also represents Wooten, called for ICDC to be “shut down immediately” on Thursday.

Acting ICE Director Tony Pham said in a statement obtained by Law&Crime on Friday that Wooten has raised “very serious concerns” that “deserve to be investigated quickly and thoroughly.”

“ICE welcomes the efforts of both the Office of Inspector General as well as the Department of Homeland Security’s parallel review. As a former prosecutor, individuals found to have violated our policies and procedures should be held accountable,” Pham said. “If there is any truth to these allegations, it is my commitment to make the corrections necessary to ensure we continue to prioritize the health, welfare and safety of ICE detainees.”

UPDATE, 6:50 p.m., Sept. 15: Medical Director of the ICE Health Service Corps (IHSC) Dr. Ada Rivera said in a statement obtained by Law&Crime that ICE “vehemently disputes the implication that detainees are used for experimental medical procedures.”

“ICE’s mission is to protect the homeland and to swiftly and quickly remove people from the country; the health, welfare and safety of ICE detainees is one of the agency’s highest priorities, any assertion or claim to the contrary is false and intentionally misleading,” the statement said.

Rivera, citing ICE data, said that since 2018 “only two individuals at Irwin County Detention Center were referred to certified, credentialed medical professionals at gynecological and obstetrical health care facilities for hysterectomies in compliance with National Commission on Correctional Health Care (NCCHC) standards.”

Rivera said detainees at ICE facilities are “afforded informed consent, and a medical procedure like a hysterectomy would never be performed against a detainee’s will.” The statement also said medical care decisions are made by medical personal, not law enforcement.

The statement further said that it was “unfortunate” that the allegations contained in the whistleblower complaint were shared with the media “without allowing the government to examine or take appropriate action.”

ICE protocols dictate a seven-step approval process for medical procedures: an evaluation for an apparent medical concern; referral to an off-site specialist (OB/GYN, for the procedures described in the complaint); recommendation for surgical procedure, if needed; a MedPAR request; review and approval of the Regional Clinical Director, except in cases of surgery to fix severely broken bones; confirmation of global surgical procedure (GSP) codes and subsequent MedPAR approval; a surgical procedure pending consent of the detainee.

UPDATE, 7:59 p.m.: U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has responded to this story with a statement that said, generally speaking, “anonymous, unproven allegations, made without any fact-checkable specifics” should be treated with skepticism. The agency said it takes “all allegations seriously” and defers to the DHS Office of Inspector General.

The full statement:

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) does not comment on matters presented to the Office of the Inspector General, which provides independent oversight and accountability within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. ICE takes all allegations seriously and defers to the OIG regarding any potential investigation and/or results. That said, in general, anonymous, unproven allegations, made without any fact-checkable specifics, should be treated with the appropriate skepticism they deserve.

The agency maintains that the Irwin County Detention Center has been inspected multiple times, with and without warning, and that the facility has been found to be in compliance with Performance Based National Detention Standards.

Original story below.

Several legal advocacy groups on Monday filed a whistleblower complaint on behalf of a nurse at an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention center documenting “jarring medical neglect” within the facility, including a refusal to test detainees for the novel coronavirus and an exorbitant rate of hysterectomies being performed on immigrant women.

The nurse, Dawn Wooten, was employed at the Irwin County Detention Center (ICDC) in Georgia, which is operated by LaSalle Corrections, a private prison company. The complaint was filed with the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) by advocacy groups Project South, Georgia Detention Watch, Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights, and South Georgia Immigrant Support Network.

Multiple women came forward to tell Project South about what they perceived to be the inordinate rate at which women in ICDC were subjected to hysterectomies – a surgical operation in which all or part of the uterus is removed. Additionally, many of the immigrant women who underwent the procedure were reportedly “confused” when asked to explain why they had the surgery, with one detainee likening their treatment to prisoners in concentration camps.

“Recently, a detained immigrant told Project South that she talked to five different women detained at ICDC between October and December 2019 who had a hysterectomy done,” the complaint stated. “When she talked to them about the surgery, the women ‘reacted confused when explaining why they had one done.’ The woman told Project South that it was as though the women were ‘trying to tell themselves it’s going to be OK.’”

“When I met all these women who had had surgeries, I thought this was like an experimental concentration camp. It was like they’re experimenting with our bodies,” the detainee said.

According to Wooten, ICDC consistently used a particular gynecologist – outside the facility – who almost always opted to remove all or part of the uterus of his female detainee patients.

“Everybody he sees has a hysterectomy—just about everybody,” Wooten said, adding that, “everybody’s uterus cannot be that bad.”

“We’ve questioned among ourselves like goodness he’s taking everybody’s stuff out…That’s his specialty, he’s the uterus collector. I know that’s ugly…is he collecting these things or something…Everybody he sees, he’s taking all their uteruses out or he’s taken their tubes out. What in the world.”

Wooten – who is being represented in the matter by the Government Accountability Project – also confirmed that many of the detained women told her that they didn’t understand why they were being forced to have the procedure. She explained that some of the nurses who didn’t speak Spanish obtained consent from detainees “by simply googling Spanish.”

The complaint details several accounts from detainees, including one woman who was not properly anesthetized during the procedure and heard the aforementioned doctor tell the nurse he had mistakenly removed the wrong ovary, resulting in her losing all reproductive ability. Another said she was scheduled for the procedure but when she questioned why it was necessary, she was given at least three completely different answers.

“She was originally told by the doctor that she had an ovarian cyst and was going to have a small twenty-minute procedure done drilling three small holes in her stomach to drain the cyst,” according to the complaint. “The officer who was transporting her to the hospital told her that she was receiving a hysterectomy to have her womb removed. When the hospital refused to operate on her because her COVID-19 test came back positive for antibodies, she was transferred back to ICDC where the ICDC nurse said that the procedure she was going to have done entailed dilating her vagina and scraping tissue off. “

Another nurse then told her the procedure was to mitigate her heavy menstrual bleeding, which the woman had never experienced. When she explained that, the nurse “responded by getting angry and agitated and began yelling at her.”

According to The Intercept, ICE declined to comment on the allegations in the complaint, while a LaSalle Corrections spox said it was “firmly committed to the health and welfare of those in our care.”

“We are deeply committed to delivering high-quality, culturally responsive services in safe and humane environments,” the person said.

Law&Crime reached out to ICE for comment. Law&Crime also reached out to DHS OIG to ask whether it has received the complaint and whether it will investigate the allegations in it. We will update this story if we receive responses.

Read the full complaint below:

OIG Complaint by Law&Crime on Scribd

[image via YouTube screengrab]

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Jerry Lambe is a journalist at Law&Crime. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and New York Law School and previously worked in financial securities compliance and Civil Rights employment law.