In her complaint, which was filed by the NGO Project South, Dawn Wooten, the whistleblower, states that she had been approached by numerous female detainees who were baffled and distressed about the invasive gynecologic procedures they had undergone (which in some cases left them unable to have children naturally). Many of the women, Wooten states, claimed that no interpreter was present to explain to them the nature of the procedure or what alternative treatments were available.
Wooten’s complaint, which was submitted to the Office of the Inspector General at the Department of Homeland Security, cites these violations against female detainees as part of a larger problem of abusive treatment of inmates held at the Irwin County Detention Center, an ICE detention facility run by the for-profit corporation LaSalle Corrections.
A Change.org petition circulating online is now calling for an immediate end to the forced sterilisation of female detainees and for the abolition of ICE, an agency that has been terrorising immigrant communities throughout the United States and detaining immigrants in inhuman conditions.
‘The Uterus Collector’
The doctor at the center of Wooten’s whistleblower complaint is Dr. Mahendra Amin, a gynaecologist who received ICE detainees from Irwin at the nearby Irwin County Hospital. As per the testimonies of multiple women detained at Irwin, Dr. Amin had repeatedly pressured inmates to undergo highly invasive gynaecological procedures even in cases where the symptoms warranted no surgical intervention.
Many of Dr. Amin’s patients from Irwin were Spanish speakers, and, according to their testimonies, they were not afforded an interpreter who could explain to them the doctor’s diagnosis, recommended treatment, and possible implications. In some cases, women went under anesthesia expecting a minor procedure only to wake up and discover they had been sterilised.
“After they get up from general anaesthesia,” Wooten told the New York Times, the inmates would ask, “why’d I have this surgery? […] And I don’t have an answer for why […] I am just as shocked as they are. Nobody explained it to them.”
Dr. Amin’s record of forcing and manipulating women into having full or partial hysterectomies had earned him the moniker “the uterus collector” among female detainees at Irwin.
“Everybody he sees, he’s taking all their uteruses out, or he’s taken their tubes out,” Wooten states in her complaint.
Although Dr. Amin has emphatically denied all allegations levelled against him, maintaining that he had adhered to medical and ethical standard in his practice, several board-certified gynecologists who reviewed the women’s cases as part of a New York Times investigation into the matter attested to potential malpractice on his part.
According to The Times, the doctors have found that Amin frequently exaggerated the size or risk regarding cysts and masses on the patient’s reproductive organs, and that he repeatedly recommended surgical intervention, including in cases where the symptoms experienced by the patient did not require surgery. The doctors further indicated that Dr. Amin’s medical files were occasionally incomplete and that some of his diagnoses and procedures were “poorly supported,” The Times reports.
Some women indicated that Amin’s charts recorded completely different symptoms than the ones they had complained about. But according to Dr. Sara Imershin, a clinical professor at George Washington University and the D.C. chair of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists who spoke to The Times, even in cases where patients did experience the symptoms recorded by Dr. Amin, he often could have been prescribed far less invasive treatments that did not involve surgical intervention—“Advil for one.”
Dr. Amin’s credibility is also compromised by the fact that back in 2013 he was a primary defendant in a civil case brought against him and several other doctors at Irwin County Hospital for alleged Medicaid fraud. Dr. Amin and a few of his colleagues at the hospital were accused by the state government of overbilling Medicaid and Medicare by prescribing unnecessary procedures and billing for work done by nurses as if it had been performed by doctors. The case was finally in 2015 for $520,000 which were paid by the hospital. Amin had settled without admitting to any wrongdoing.
Dr. Amin’s conduct had left women at Irwin physically and psychologically traumatised. According to an advocate of one of the inmates who was interviewed by The Intercept, one woman who had seen Dr. Amin several times had requested to be deported from the United States, fearing that she would “lose her reproductive system” if she were to continue to be treated by Dr. Amin. Her request was granted by ICE and the women had reportedly been deported.
Despite the recurring complaints against Dr. Amin, and the doctor’s questionable past, ICE continued to refer women to his clinic. To date, ICE has only officially confirmed two cases in which hysterectomies were performed on detainees at the Irwin County Hospital, despite growing evidence that the number is significantly higher.
Among the women who had complained to Wooten about their experience with Dr. Amin was Wendy Dowe, a 48-year-old immigrant from Jamaica. According to her testimony, Dr. Amin had told her that the menstrual cramping she had experienced resulted from large cysts and a mass the size of a “cantaloupe” that required removal through surgery. Despite being reluctant to undergo the procedure, Dowe finally relented. As a detainee, who was brought into the clinic in handcuffs, she felt pressured to consent to Dr. Amin’s recommendations, Dowe told The Times.
After completing the procedure, Dr. Amin recorded in his files that Dowe requested an additional surgery for full abdominal hysterectomy and removal of the ovaries. The Times corroborated that Dowe requested no such thing. Upon her deportation to Jamaica, Dowe had met with several doctors, all of whom concluded, based on her imaging done at Irwin, that her uterus was a healthy size, that no large masses were present, and that whatever cysts she did have were naturally occurring and did not require surgery.
Yuridia, a Mexican immigrant, was among the other victims of Dr. Amin. Yuridia sought medical attention due to pain in her ribcage that resulted from a fight with her ex-partner prior to her arrest, and was taken by ICE to see Dr. Amin despite the fact that her complaint involved no gynaecological-related issues. “I was assuming they were going to check my rib,” Yuridia told The Times, “the next thing I know, he’s doing a vaginal exam.” In his notes, Dr Amin recorded that Yuridia had heavy menstruation and pelvic pain and that she had cysts in her ovaries that required removal. Yuridia told The Times that she never complained of such symptoms, and subsequent reports indicated that she had no dangerous cysts in her ovaries. Nevertheless, Dr. Amin slated her for surgery.
Yuridia told The Times that she had expected a minor vaginal procedure and was startled to wake up from the surgery and discover that three incisions were made on her abdomen and that a piece of skin was missing from her genital area. “I woke up and I was alone, and I was in pain and everyone spoke English so I could not ask any questions,” she said. Yuridia was subsequently deported while still in recovery from Dr. Amin’s needlessly invasive surgery.
Inhuman treatment at ICE facilities
Wooten’s whistleblower complaint details neglect and maltreatment of detainees at Irwin that extend beyond Dr. Amin’s alleged crimes and ICE complacency in facilitating forced hysterectomies of inmates.
Wooten attests to the overall deplorable conditions at Irwin, where facilities are filthy, medical care is poor and insufficient, and the food is often ant- and cockroach-infested.
Wooten’s complaint delineates Irwin management’s mishandeling of the COVID-19 crisis and monumental failure to protect inmates and staff from the virus. Among other examples provided by Wooten were LaSalle’s refusal to test inmates and under-reporting of cases. “We didn’t have proper PPE. It was like a cover-up. As time progressed, more [COVID-19] cases systemically appeared,” Wooten told Democracy Now!. Referencing the instructions she received from her superiors, Wooten stated: “It was unbelievable—‘We didn’t have it. Don’t you talk about it. Don’t you discuss it’.”
Such trends of abysmal maltreatment and neglect are not exclusive to Irwin, unfortunately, but portray a reality at immigration carceral facilities across the country, where families are separated and inmates are jailed under inhuman conditions. Disease, psychological strain, malnutrition, mental, physical and sexual abuse, and death of inmates have all emerged as tragically common precipitates of an immigration system run by political interest, insatiable greed, and a xenophobic ideology.
The advent of COVID-19 has made matters worse for migrants and immigrants incarcerated by ICE, as prisons across the U.S. have morphed into petri dishes of the virus. An Intercept article by Cora Currier exposes hand-written letters and notes by detainees held at ICE facilities in Arizona in which they plead for help as the pandemic courses through the jails, infecting hundreds of inmates and staff members.
According to The Intercept, as of October 15, 2020, more than 6,000 ICE detainees have tested positive for COVID-19, 8 of which have died.
Public outcry desperately needed
The human rights violations at Irwin have elicited patchy responses so far. The story did make several headlines, but was swiftly buried under the rubble of the drama emanating from the White House and the latest developments concerning the upcoming elections.
Several politicians have tweeted about the incident, and an inquiry conducted by Congress and the Department of Homeland Security into the allegations made against Dr. Amin is ongoing.
But only sustained public pressure will compel lawmakers and stake-holders to take concrete action against Dr. Amin and his enablers and tackle the broader injustices inflicted by the current immigration system and the forces operating behind it.
“ICE is stripping all autonomy of these immigrant communities. This is eugenics. Abolish ICE,” reads the Change.org petition.
Please consider signing the petition and amplify the call to hold Dr. Amin and ICE accountable for their flagrant human rights violations.