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More Than 40 Women Are Now Speaking Out About Alleged Medical Misconduct In ICE Detention

"I was hysterical, I thought about my kids and my life. I wondered if I was going to die," one of the detainees told BuzzFeed News.

Last updated on December 22, 2020, at 6:09 p.m. ET

Posted on December 22, 2020, at 5:41 p.m. ET

Tns / Reuters

Forty-one women are now speaking out against the federal government and a Georgia gynecologist, most of them alleging that they underwent unwanted and medically unnecessary procedures while in ICE detention.

The amended class action lawsuit complaint filed on Monday night alleges that 35 of the women underwent nonconsensual or medically unnecessary gynecological procedures at the hands of Mahendra Amin while detained at the Irwin County Detention Center (ICDC) in Ocilla, Georgia. Fourteen of those women had nonconsensual or medically unnecessary surgeries, the complaint states.

The lawsuit also includes sworn declarations from six additional witnesses to medical abuse and retaliation the women allegedly endured in ICE detention.

In addition to increasing the number of women alleging medical misconduct at the hands of Amin, the class action lawsuit states that the women suffered retaliation for speaking out and face the threat of deportation. The complaint also states that those charged with the care of these immigrant women, including guards, medical staff, and ICE employees, knew about the unwanted procedures as far back as 2018.

"Since at least 2018, Respondents have known about the medical abuse women detained at ICDC have suffered at the hands of Respondent Amin but have nonetheless continued a policy or custom of sending women to be mistreated and abused by Respondent Amin," the complaint states.

Sirine Shebaya, executive director of the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild, said the more advocates and attorneys learn about medical treatment inside the ICDC, the clearer it becomes that there was a pattern of invasive gynecological procedures.

"I don't believe the narrative is that Dr. Amin is a bad apple — the narrative is ICE consistently and systematically violated people's rights," Shebaya told BuzzFeed News. "People in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement are treated as less than human and subjected to nonconsensual medical procedures in the most violating ways you can possibly imagine."

In a statement, ICE said it was unable to comment on pending litigation.

"Additionally, all these matters are currently being investigated by the DHS [Office of Inspector General]. ICE is fully cooperating with that investigation," the agency said.

The allegations against Amin became public in September after a whistleblower — Dawn Wooten, who worked as a nurse at the detention center — filed a complaint with the Department of Homeland Security's Office of Inspector General. Wooten, whose complaint primarily focused on medical care and COVID-19 testing inside the facility, also alleged that unwanted hysterectomies were being performed on immigrant detainees.

BuzzFeed News previously reported on women who said Amin had conducted medical procedures on them without their consent at Irwin County Hospital.

Amin has denied the allegations through his attorney and did not respond to a request for comment.

Jaromy Floriano Navarro, a 28-year-old woman from Mexico who was detained at ICDC, said Amin wouldn't fully explain her treatment and didn't answer questions she and others had about their medical care.

The first time Floriano saw Amin, he performed a vaginal ultrasound on her without warning or explanation. Amin told Floriano she had a cyst that would continue to grow and was dangerous, but beyond that he didn't give her any more details, the complaint states.

"When you asked Dr. Amin questions, he doesn't answer you," Floriano told BuzzFeed News. "He doesn't look you in the eyes, and if you try to talk to him, he looked at you as if you were nothing."

At her initial visit, Amin told Floriano she needed to have a Depo, or birth control, shot. The complaint states Amin did not give her a choice about the treatment, which resulted in Floriano bleeding for a month straight. Floriano said it was unusual because she had had a Depo shot before without any side effects.

Floriano said Amin would rest his hand on her knee while he inspected her vaginal area and inside her body, without ever explaining what he was doing. Amin told Floriano she needed to have a small procedure to drain the cyst, she said, and was told it would only leave behind three dots.

Amin didn't tell her when the procedure would occur. On July 31, Floriano was scheduled for a procedure she believed was to drain her cyst. But once Floriano arrived at the hospital, she was told by an officer at the detention facility that Amin was actually going to perform a hysterectomy.

"I didn't have time to think," Floriano said. "I went into prayer immediately and said, 'Lord, did you hear what she said?'"

Moments later, a nurse walked into the room and told the officer that Amin would be unable to perform the surgery because Floriano's COVID-19 antibody test had come back positive. At the time, Floriano said she didn't even have time to register that the coronavirus had resulted in her avoiding the procedure.

"I was hysterical, I thought about my kids and my life. I wondered if I was going to die at the Irwin County Detention Center," Floriano said.

Floriano spoke with a lawyer at Project South, the Atlanta-based advocacy organization that filed the whistleblower complaint, about the medical treatment women underwent.

Floriano said guards at ICDC and ICE officers continued to pressure her to have the surgery even after she expressed concerns about having the procedure done. Floriano saw Amin on Sept. 15, shortly before she was deported, during which she said he berated her for not getting the surgery.

Shortly after the whistleblower complaint was published, an officer at ICDC asked Floriano if she had spoken out.

"Yes, it was me...I told a lawyer that you guys were doing illegal surgeries here," Floriano responded, according to the complaint.

The next day, Floriano was deported to Mexico, leaving her two daughters, ages 8 and 2, with her mother.

"I hope there is justice for all of us here at Irwin County, for all of us who have been able to speak up and participate in this investigation," Floriano said. "I hope they release every woman from Irwin County and bring back the women they deported for speaking out."

The lawsuit also accuses ICE and guards at ICDC of placing immigrant women who spoke out in solitary confinement or deporting them.

Attorneys representing the federal government had initially agreed to temporarily not deport any of the women involved in the case against Amin. But they later asked a court to get out of the agreement, stating that the highest levels of ICE had not agreed to it. On Tuesday, a federal judge denied their request.


A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.

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