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19 women allege medical abuse while in Georgia immigration detention center

By Molly O'Toole, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

"Even before I went to go see Dr. Amin, I heard a lot of stories about him," Shamekia McKay told the Times. "I thought, 'I don't think I want him to touch me.' ... Because we're immigrants, they just did whatever they wanted to do with us."

Amanda, the woman who said she woke up from surgery in a panic, was born in Guyana, and detained at Irwin for 17 months.

She said that Amin had told her that her life was at risk because of an ovarian cyst that could rupture. She tried to ask questions, she said, but was told if she refused care, ICE would delay or refuse future medical care she may need.

"I felt pressured to do it; I signed the paper," Amanda said. She said she asked for her records from Irwin officials to give to her attorney, but said she was never provided them.

She said Amin told her he'd just drain the cyst. She consented to neither of the surgeries he performed instead, she said, and no records of such a consent have been provided to her.

Wendy Dowe, 48, who was deported to Jamaica in May after more than 20 years in the U.S., said of Irwin: "They treat you like you're not human."

She said she told Amin, "I've got the right to know what's going on with me." But after surgery, she was surprised to see bandages on her stomach. She had to write to Amin's medical office, she said, to ask: "What type of surgery did I have?"

Later, she said she refused to get a surprise hysterectomy as Amin and others asked her: "How many kids you got? Well, I don't see why you can't take it out."

The independent medical review of Dowe's records conducted as part of the report found the recommended procedure was unwarranted.

For most of the women, "Dr. Amin's 'findings' justifying surgery are unsupported by all other available sources of information," the report states.

According to the report's authors, as well as the women and their lawyers, several of the women were not given their medical records, which the women and their lawyers characterized as retaliation for their complaints.

Of the records the reviewers did obtain, many were incomplete or inaccurate, the report says, with a number of the surgeries Amin performed not recorded correctly or omitted completely.

Because the records produced by the Irwin detention center, Irwin County Hospital and Amin "appear to be incomplete," the report says, and because ICE and Irwin officials have obstructed medical records requests, many of the women do not yet fully know what was done to them.

Dr. Ted Anderson, director of the gynecology division at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, who helped lead the review, said the most immediate concern from the procedures is "a person's future fertility." For example, he said, "If you remove the fallopian tube, it's a sterilization procedure, even if it was done for some other reason ... If you remove both of the ovaries, you're surgically menopausal."

 

In the thousands of pages of records for all 19 women, the report's authors said they only found one signed consent — in English, for a woman whose primary language is Spanish. "This is unacceptable from a medical ethics perspective," the report states.

At least 23 of the total number of women so far identified by the coalition as Amin's patients remain detained at Irwin, and four are detained elsewhere, the women's lawyers say. The rest have been released, either in the United States or abroad, or deported.

Pauline Binam can never forget what the doctor told her when she came out of anesthesia: "He cut it out, and I wouldn't have kids naturally any more."

"I didn't have to suspect anything — he told me himself," Binam, who came to the United States from Cameroon with her family when she was 2 years old, told the Times. According to Pauline and her records, obtained by the Times, Amin had removed one of her fallopian tubes without her consent. "I started crying – I was in shock and a daze ... him just making that decision for me."

Binam, the first of Amin's alleged victims to go public, was pulled off a deportation flight to Cameroon last month after congressional intervention, but remains still at risk of removal.

ICE uses Irwin along with the U.S. Marshals Service as part of an inter-governmental agreement. LaSalle Corrections, which runs the facility, also operates 25 other detention facilities, correctional centers, and jails.

Last year, the Homeland Security Inspector General found that ICE's multilayered contracting system "does not adequately hold detention facility contractors accountable for not meeting performance standards."

Inspection reports from the detention oversight arm of ICE's Office of Professional Responsibility, the most recent in March, show that Irwin is consistently in violation of national detention standards that "directly affect detainee life, health, safety, and/or well-being."

The inspection reports also show that Irwin refers more than 1,000 detainees a year for outside medical attention, "far more," than most detention facilities of its size, according to a New York Times analysis.

Lawmakers have accused ICE and LaSalle of "stonewalling Congress by withholding documents."

Meanwhile, the five women who've been released or deported from Irwin are struggling to get by, and awaiting answers. For Dowe and her three U.S.-citizen daughters now in Jamaica, she said, "It's been hard to adjust."

"Because I am an immigrant, and I'm Black, that's why this happened," Dowe said, but added, "No I am not giving up. I still have hope that I will get some form of justice."

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