Members of Congress who visited immigrants detained by federal authorities at a facility that has come under fire following allegations of unwanted gynecological procedures heard firsthand accounts on Saturday from women who said they were coerced or had unwanted medical treatment.
Members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and House Judiciary Committee were among those who toured and spoke with immigrants detained at the Irwin County Detention Center in Georgia, including a woman who asked them to read her medical file and explain what she had been injected with.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal, a Democrat from Washington state, said that during the visit she spoke with women, four of which said they had unwanted procedures they felt they were forced to undergo, otherwise it would result in them receiving a contraceptive injection without being told of the side effects. On a call with reporters, Jayapal said she has now spoken to eight women who say they had been subjected to forced unnecessary procedures — some of which have resulted in full or partial sterilization — or procedures without their consent or full knowledge.
"This is clearly an epidemic within Irwin County Detention Center we believe is tied to the for-profit nature of these procedures," Jayapal said. "One woman said she was treated like an animal, all described being shackled and coming out bleeding."
The Irwin County Detention Center in Ocilla, Georgia, has come under intense scrutiny following allegations that a gynecologist had performed unwanted hysterectomies on ICE detainees. There has, however, been no evidence to support the accusations of mass sterilizations on immigrants at the ICE detention center.
Ken Cuccinelli, the second in command at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which oversees ICE, on Thursday said that over the course of four years, two hysterectomies were performed at the Irwin County Hospital near the facility. Cuccinelli said after seeing the reports he immediately dispatched a team of people outside of ICE to review records at the facility, which is separate from an investigation being carried out by DHS's Office of Inspector General.
Still, several people have since come forward to accuse Mahendra Amin of conducting other gynecological procedures on women without their consent.
BuzzFeed News has spoken to four women or their attorneys who allege Amin conducted medical procedures on them without revealing or fully explaining what he planned to do. This, they and their lawyers say, meant the women did not give consent.
Experts said that in order for women to consent they have to be fully informed of the procedure.
The allegations against Amin came after a whistleblower — Dawn Wooten, who worked as a nurse at the detention center — filed a complaint with the DHS's Office of Inspector General. Wooten, whose complaint primarily focused on medical care and COVID-19 testing, also alleged that unwanted hysterectomies were being performed on immigrant women. Wooten didn’t name the doctor — but soon after, Amin’s name was made public by advocates and attorneys.
California Rep. Raul Ruiz, also a Democrat, said all procedures done without someone's consent should be investigated, not just hysterectomies.
"They should be considered because of the potential and the risks of causing infertility, scarring, further complications, further pain," Ruiz told reporters. "The point here is if you are going to take a blade to a woman's body, then you need to have informed consent otherwise it is an assault to that woman."
The Irwin County Detention Center, despite attempts in recent days to paint over mold and swap out moldy shower curtains, was not complying with national standards for public health, which, Ruiz said, was particularly concerning during the coronavirus pandemic.
Women had one disposable mask to use for months and were only given a new one the day before their visit, Ruiz said.
Rep. Nanette Barragán, also a Democrat from California, said the women they met were crying and asked for help. Some of them said women would return to the ICE detention center after undergoing a gynecological procedure in pain, crying, and would later develop an infection.
One woman with an infection in her belly button that had turned navy blue was released from Irwin County Detention Center days before the congressional delegation arrived, which Barragán believes ICE did to avoid scrutiny.
Another woman asked Barragán to read her medical files and explain what the injection she received was and what it was for. Barragán said the woman bled for 42 days afterward and experienced pain from the injection she received after refusing to undergo a dilation and curettage procedure with Amin.
Barragán said she also spoke with a woman who said she received a Pap smear with dirty equipment and later developed an infection. Many of the women were afraid of speaking out, fearing retaliation.
"They were called criminals. They were calling them cockroaches and mistreated," Barragán said. "We're treating them like animals. You can see the impact on their health and mental health."