Jamaican woman’s ‘nightmare’ in US immigration detention- report
This article features Government Accountability Project whistleblower client disclosures and was originally published here.
A Jamaican mother of four was among dozens of undocumented women allegedly victimised by medical staff while in the custody of United States immigration authorities, a US government report has concluded.
According to the report, released on November 15 following an 18-month investigation by a US Senate subcommittee, Wendy Dowe was one of the females who “appeared to be subjected to excessive, invasive, and often unnecessary gynaecological procedures” while detained at the Irwin County Detention Center (ICDC) in Ocilla, Georgia.
Detainees reportedly endured botched diagnosis, overly aggressive treatments, repeated denials of second opinions, threats by medical officers, and surgery without consent, some while still shackled by handcuffs and chains.
The case has resulted in the US government ordering the removal of immigrant detainees from the ICDC. The doctor who performed some of the medical procedures, and who years earlier had been sued by justice departments in the US for fraud, has been barred from treating detainees. He was reportedly under criminal investigation by several US law-enforcement agencies as of early 2022.
Meanwhile, a lawsuit has been filed by victims of the alleged abuse against the doctor and multiple agencies, including ICDC, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Irwin County Hospital (ICH), where some medical procedures were performed. They are seeking US$5 million in damages.
Dowe, the report stated, entered the US in 1997 on a visitor visa but overstayed and was, in 2018, arrested and detained for 18 months by ICE for ganja possession and providing false information to law enforcement. Dowe was sent to ICDC, a place she described to the US Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations: Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs as a “nightmare” she “would not even put dogs in”.
A GoFundMe page set up to assist Dowe claimed that at the time she went to ICDC, “Wendy was healthy, except for hypertension”. That soon changed drastically. According to the subcommittee’s report, after experiencing “heavy and painful menstrual cycles”, Dowe said she was examined by Dr Mahendra Amin on December 21, 2018 and told she had ovarian cysts.
Dr Amin ordered tests, which were done on January 10, 2019, “outside” ICDC at ICH. The next day, Dr Amin said, “Ms Dowe needed a D&C (dilation and curettage) scope,” a surgical procedure to remove tissue from the uterus.
On January 29, 2019, the day of the surgery, “Ms Dowe recalled that the medical unit staff did not tell her what doctor she was going to see, nor was it explained that she was to have surgery that day … . It is only when she arrived at the hospital that she learned she was scheduled for surgery,” the report stated.
“… Ms Dowe said she was shackled at her feet and waist and ‘physically was not able to argue’ with the ICH nursing staff about the surgery.”
Dowe told the subcommittee “she did not recall signing any consent forms prior to the surgery”, and only “learned a week later that she had undergone a cyst-removal procedure”.
Dowe was deported to Jamaica in April 2020, but not before enduring a series of harrowing incidents, which she said involved Dr Amin and ICDC. They included accusations that she was mentally unfit.
The following is an edited timeline of Dowe’s ordeal outlined in the Senate subcommittee’s report:
· March 19, 2019 – Dowe said she went back to Dr Amin, was given a Depo-Provera injection and told she needed a hysterectomy (partial or full removal of the uterus) to take out “a cancerous tumour in her ovary … the size of a cantaloupe”.
“She explained that Dr Amin asked her how many children she had, and after she answered, he stated, ‘Okay, you’re good, you don’t need no more [children].’”
Dowe told the subcommittee that after she left ICDC, she consulted another doctor, who “confirmed she does not have a cancerous tumour”.
· April 10, 2019 – The day before the scheduled hysterectomy surgery, “Ms Dowe refused to undergo the procedure” and refused to sign the treatment form. Dowe said she was called “crazy” by members of the ICDC staff, and attempts were made to “force her to see a psychiatrist several times”.
· May 7, 2019 – Dowe reported feeling weak and “bleeding for the past three weeks, and it can’t stop”.
· May 28, 2019 – Dowe is referred back to Dr Amin. His notes indicated she should have the hysterectomy as “soon as possible” and that she had been “approved for the procedure”.
· June 7, 2019 – Dowe again declined the hysterectomy.
· August 8, 2019 – Dowe asked for a “second opinion” as “her ovary was ‘hurting’ and she ‘had been bleeding for over a month.’”
· October 30, 2019 – Dowe was “referred to mental health for stress. She does not want to have surgery (a hysterectomy) because she is afraid. She wants a second opinion for the surgery,” noted the ICDC medical unit, which claimed it would “try to find another OB/GYN for consulting”.
The subcommittee reported that there is no record of Dowe ever receiving a second opinion.
· February 2020 – Dowe is again referred to Dr Amin for “stomach and vaginal pain”. The report stated that, according to the doctor’s notes, “Ms Dowe’s pain was due to ‘fibroids’ … .”
Weeks later, Dowe submitted another “sick call” request, complaining of “terrible pain in my ovary”. The next day, she went to the ICDC’s medical unit. Notes indicated that she “still wants a second opinion”.
· March 2020 – With the pain in her lower abdomen worsening, Dowe “was scheduled to see Dr Amin again, despite requesting a second opinion”.
· March 4, 2020 – “Outside provider referral order for Ms Dowe stated, ‘Referral to Dr Amin to discuss option of fibroid biopsy/Total Hysterectomy.’” Due to Dowe’s impending release from ICDC, that order was cancelled.
In compiling its report, the subcommittee interviewed six of the women, including Dowe, who alleged medical misconduct at ICDC, a private detention centre owned by LaSalle Corrections.
The victims’ lawsuit is ongoing.
In January 2021, Dowe told a TVJ reporter she also visited the dentist while at ICDC and “took two teeth out”, while wearing shackles around her waist, arms and feet. She said she suffers from sleep apnea. She also recalled being put in solitary confinement at ICDC because she spoke out about treatment at the facility, and was denied visits by her children.
The subcommittee’s investigation was sparked by a “whistle-blower complaint filed by immigration advocacy groups”. It was launched to examine “multiple allegations of medical abuse against detainees at ICDC”. By September 3, 2021, all immigrant detainees were removed from the ICDC facility.
According to the report, when Dr Amin was hired by ICE, the agency “was not aware of, and did not review key information regarding Dr Amin’s professional history prior to the agency’s agreement to allow Dr Amin to treat ICDC detainees in 2014”. It also stated that Dr Amin held no medical board certifications.
Dr Amin declined to testify before the subcommittee, but has denied allegations of medical mistreatment of detainees at ICDC.
Efforts to contact the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, and the Consulate General in Florida, to determine what the Jamaica Government knew about Dowe’s case and possible action on her behalf, were unsuccessful.