Attorneys, advocates, journalists, federal agencies, and members of Congress are working to learn more about what happened to the women at the Irwin County Detention Center (ICDC) who allege they were sterilized and operated on without their full and informed consent by Douglas, Georgia, doctor named Mahendra Amin. The women’s stories about how they ended up in his operating room are remarkably similar, and their experiences were buried until last week.
Based on information from attorneys and interviews Prism conducted with formerly detained immigrants, the process seemed to go something like this: As part of regular detention center operations, detained people who have any kind of ailment or sickness have to fill out a “sick request” in hopes of accessing medical care. These requests usually aren’t taken seriously at detention centers. ICDC was no exception, as whistleblower Dawn Wooten alleged in a complaint filed with the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General. Across many detention centers, this is true both in urgent situations and when a detained person simply needs basic care. But for some women at ICDC, a sick request would inexplicably lead a detention center nurse to refer them for outside medical care with Amin.
On their first visit with Amin, formerly detained women told Prism the doctor would tell them they had fibroids or ovarian cysts, both of which are common. Amin would reportedly inject these women with a progestin shot called Depo-Provera, a common form of birth control, that he said would “keep things in check,” according to a survivor. Based on different studies, progestin may shrink fibroids or may make them grow. However, when the Depo-Provera shot eventually caused bleeding, as it’s known to do in the weeks after the first injection, Amin allegedly used this as reasoning to operate: removing a fallopian tube, as he did to Pauline Binam or performing a hysterectomy, as he did to Maria.
Rev. Leeann Culbreath is a member of the South Georgia Immigrant Support Network. Before the COVID-19 crisis, Network volunteers regularly visited with people detained at ICDC to listen and “be a friend,” and refer people to resources or advocate for them individually if requested. During these visits, detained immigrants sometimes shared what they were enduring inside of ICDC. Culbreath said she doesn’t remember the name of any specific doctors coming up, but she does recall hearing about “gynecological procedures” and women at the facility appearing to have “regular gynecological care.”
“It was curious because we would so often hear that people could not get medication they needed, in one instance could not get a broken bone taken care of. They sometimes couldn’t get basic cold and headache medication or extra feminine hygiene products. It was a daily battle to get basic care, so it was just odd to hear from women about all of the gynecological care. The whistleblower’s testimony confirmed to us an investigation is needed,” Culbreath said, referring to Wooten’s complaint.
Based on conversations she had with women who received outside gynecological care, Culbreath said they reported that they did not receive pain medication of any kind after surgery or if they did, it was delayed by several days. This was also the experience of survivors who spoke to Prism. Some women also told her that they recovered from surgery in their dorm unit, but Culbreath said it may have been their choice because the other option would have been medical segregation.
“They wanted to be where people would take care of them, and the women take care of each other. Going to medical or being put in medical isolation felt like a punishment,” Culbreath said.
Prism could not confirm the number of women who were reportedly sterilized or operated on by Amin without their informed consent, but an attorney investigating the medical care at ICDC told The Washington Post Amin saw at least 60 detained women.
Scott R. Grubman, a lawyer for Amin, did not directly respond to these latest allegations against his client.
“We are aware of the whistleblower’s allegations as they relate to Dr. Amin, and vehemently deny them. Dr. Amin is a highly respected physician who has dedicated his adult life to treating a high-risk, underserved population in rural Georgia,” Grubman wrote in an email. The attorney went on to cite a Washington Post article in which Priyanka Bhatt, a staff attorney at Project South, acknowledged that she did not speak to any of the women directly who were reportedly operated on by Amin without their informed consent. Project South is the organization that filed the original complaint with the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General that included Wooten’s allegations.
“Moreover, after an investigation, the Associated Press concluded that there was no evidence of mass hysterectomies at ICDC,” Grubman continued. “We look forward to all of the facts coming out and are confident that, once they do, Dr. Amin will be cleared of any wrongdoing.”