A complicated picture is emerging of both the doctor accused of sterilizing detained women without their consent and the nurse who brought the information to light. The American public has expressed shock and disgust over the alleged actions of Mahendra Amin, the Georgia gynecologist accused of performing unnecessary hysterectomies on women detained at the Irwin County Detention Center. But in Douglas, Georgia, the small, tight-knit community where Amin has practiced obstetrics and gynecology for decades, he is viewed as a “pillar in the community,” according to Douglas residents who spoke to Prism. A Facebook page was created by residents in the area to support the doctor and it includes testimonials from people reporting to have been his patients.

Meanwhile, Dawn Wooten, the licensed practical nurse formerly employed at ICDC who blew the whistle on the allegations of forced sterilization reportedly performed by Amin, has been called an “American hero.” Immigrants who were detained at ICDC tell a different story. 

One migrant who was deported earlier this year said her time at ICDC overlapped with Wooten’s employment at the facility. In a phone call, she told Prism that “like everyone” who worked at ICDC, Wooten was “complicit” in the mistreatment of immigrants, saying the nurse knew what was happening to detained women. Like other nurses at the facility, she said Wooten also joked and made fun of people detained at ICDC. The whistleblower’s attorney told Prism that Wooten does not speak Spanish, but she used ICDC’s language line to “communicate with detained immigrants whenever a language barrier existed.” According to a congressional letter released today, Wooten began disclosing her concerns regarding the mismanagement of the response to the coronavirus pandemic to the private prison company that runs ICDC beginning in March 2020.

A spokesperson for an organization representing immigrants detained at ICDC told Prism their clients also remember Wooten unfavorably, alleging the nurse participated in their “mistreatment and trauma” and sometimes “made jokes at their expense.”

Wooten declined to speak to Prism on the record, but her counsel at the Government Accountability Project, Dana Gold, responded on her behalf.

“Dawn witnessed systemic abuses at ICDC. When she raised concerns about the operating procedures to her superiors, they demoted her,” Gold said in an email. “She came forward to expose and validate grave mistreatment of detained immigrants at Irwin because she believes in the need for systematic change and accountability from the top down.”

While the situation unfolding in Georgia is murky and complicated, the abuse experienced by women like Maria is clear.

In a phone call from El Salvador the afternoon of Sept.16, the asylum-seeker told Prism Amin performed a hysterectomy on her without her consent. Before being deported in April 2018, Maria was detained at ICDC for nearly seven months. During her time at the facility, even before the alleged surgery, she said she experienced a host of medical issues, largely related to medical neglect. With the help of an interpreter, the asylum seeker told Prism that medical staff at ICDC often failed to give her the diabetes medication she needed, sometimes skipping multiple weeks.

“No one worried for the immigrants,” Maria said.  

At one point during her stint at Irwin, Maria said her “insides kept hurting,” and this is when she alleges she was sent to Amin and given a hysterectomy. The asylum- seeker said no one ever explained to her in Spanish what was happening or why she was having the surgery. Maria told Prism she never consented to the procedure, does not recall signing any documentation, and alleges she was not given any pain medication as part of her aftercare. This information was confirmed by her attorney.

The alleged surgery took place at the Irwin County Hospital, which names Douglas, Georgia-based MGA Health Management, Inc. as its management company since 1996. According to public records, Amin owns MGA Health Management, and is also listed as the company’s secretary, chief executive officer, and chief financial officer. The corporation was formed in 1996 and most recently registered this year.

Despite the stories that have emerged from migrant women detained at ICDC, women living in the Douglas, Georgia, community where Amin is based paint a very different portrait of the man, who they describe as a “powerful” force in the medical community.

One associate in the medical field, who wanted to remain anonymous out of fear of retribution, said she didn’t know “a single person in the area” who wouldn’t “stake their reputation” on defending the doctor. Not only does he wield power over Irwin County Hospital and Coffee Regional Medical Center—a facility that recently removed Amin from its website and a place Wooten’s attorney said she once applied for a job at—but the associate said Amin is also one of the only OBGYNs in the area to accept Medicare and Medicaid. The gynecologist was once a co-defendant in a lawsuit in which he and other doctors were ordered to pay more than half a million dollars to resolve allegations that they caused false claims to be submitted to Medicare and Medicaid.

The associate told Prism it’s “entirely possible” Amin performed hysterectomies on detained women, but questions that it was done covertly and without some sort of contract in place—even if Amin’s company managed Irwin County Hospital.

“The [Drug Enforcement Administration] in Georgia is very strict in monitoring schedule II and schedule III drugs, which would include anesthesia. These are also serious surgeries and multiple people would be in the room, responsible for it, risking their licenses and everything they have,” the associate said. “There is no way this was being done under the radar and without a paper trail. That would be like murdering someone in the middle of a big party with no witnesses.”

A former patient of Amin’s, who also wanted to remain anonymous, told Prism she didn’t know many people in Douglas who weren’t somehow connected with the doctor or whose children weren’t delivered by him.

She began seeing Amin in 2015 to treat her polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and endometriosis. She told Prism Amin once provided free care during an appointment when her insurance lapsed. Other times, the doctor kept appointments with her even when she still owed his practice money from previous visits. In 2017, when Amin removed a cyst from one of her ovaries, the doctor found a way to bill her insurance so that she didn’t have to pay anything out-of-pocket even though she had not met her insurance deductible.

She told Prism she respected the doctor, but also acknowledged having a “slight animosity” toward Amin.

When she began seeing Amin at the age of 26, she alleges that over the span of the next three years she repeatedly asked him to perform a hysterectomy on her. Each time, the doctor denied the request.

“It seemed like a very personal decision to him, he just didn’t think it was right,” the former patient said. “I wasn’t married and I was in my 20s and he didn’t want me to regret the decision.”

At 31 with her first child on the way, she said she can “honestly say” that she still has feelings about being denied a hysterectomy. She was not “entirely happy” when she learned she was pregnant because she never envisioned having children. It is because Amin denied her requests for a hysterectomy that the former patient said she finds it hard to believe he would perform hysterectomies on detained women without their consent.

Scott Grubman, the attorney representing Amin, did not respond to Prism’s specific requests for comment regarding the information provided by his former patient or the allegations made by women detained at ICDC. He would only say Amin “vehemently” denies the allegations and that he is confident Amin “will be cleared of any wrongdoing.”

Meanwhile, the number of women alleged to have been sterilized by Amin continues to rise.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement maintains that since 2018, just two individuals from ICDC were referred for hysterectomies. In Project South’s complaint, which did not identify Amin by name, Wooten said she knew of at least five women at ICDC who were sterilized in 2019. On the night of Sept. 16, Rep. Pramila Jayapal confirmed she was in communication with attorneys representing at least 17 immigrant women who were forced to have unnecessary procedures—including hysterectomies.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is calling for an investigation into Wooten’s allegations and on September 14, Georgia state Rep. Bob Trammell sent a letter to the Georgia Composite Medical Board and the Georgia Board of Nursing, requesting they “immediately suspend the licenses of the providers named in the whistleblower complaint pending a full investigation.” Ken Cuccinelli, deputy secretary of DHS, told the National Review he asked the Office of Inspector General to expedite its review of the allegations of forced sterilization. In reference to the procedures performed on women detained at ICDC, Cuccinelli told the outlet his agency has not seen any payments or requests for payment for the hysterectomies Amin allegedly performed, and that it is “virtually inconceivable that any of this could have been going on without multiple sets of records.”

As headlines about the mounting evidence of forced sterilizations exploded across the U.S. Wednesday, Maria stood outside her home in El Salvador, a rooster crowing in the background, and urged Americans hearing the news to “be more humanitarian” toward immigrants.  

“We all have the same feelings and shouldn’t be treated like animals,” Maria said. “We want to be treated like human beings.”

UPDATE: This article has been updated to clarify that Wooten did not identify Amin by name in the complaint. He was first identified in reporting by Prism.

Tina Vásquez is the editor-at-large at Prism. She covers gender justice, workers' rights, and immigration. Follow her on Twitter @TheTinaVasquez.