An extensive new report sheds further light on the abuses against immigrants detained at the Irwin County Detention Center (ICDC) in Georgia, including first-hand accounts from women abused by a notorious gynecologist who is under federal investigation. The report, authored by a number of leading advocacy groups, includes accounts of unnecessary and invasive procedures performed without consent, including transvaginal ultrasounds and birth control shots, as well as retaliation against victims who spoke out about abuses.
“These reports of medical abuse at ICDC are consistent with a broad pattern of human rights abuses at ICDC and numerous other immigration detention centers across the country,” the report said. Among the immigrants who described shocking incidents of abuse and retaliation is “J,” a 29-year-old Mexican woman and mother of two U.S. citizens. Not more than 24 hours after being confronted about speaking to her lawyer about abuses, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) deported her.
J said in the report that she was initially referred to gynecologist Mahendra Amin due to heavy menstrual cramps. “At her first appointment, Dr. Amin performed a transvaginal ultrasound without explanation and without seeking her consent,” telling her that she needed surgery and a birth control shot for an apparent cyst. “She was also not offered any alternative methods for either the treatment or the surgery. She was given the shot and bled for an entire month afterward.”
Her subsequent appointments would continue to be deeply traumatizing, the report continued. “Each visit made her feel extremely uncomfortable and violated given her history as a survivor of sexual assault. Dr. Amin never explained what he was doing as he rested one hand on her knee and alternated between inserting an ultrasound wand and his fingers inside her vaginal area.”
Eventually, J was told that she needed to have surgery to drain the cyst. But after not being allowed to read the paperwork she was instructed to sign, she was then told that Amin would be performing a hysterectomy. She found this out not from hospital staff, but from a guard. “At this point, she would have been forced to have that hysterectomy if it were not for the fact that her COVID-19 test result showed COVID-19 antibodies.”
That test result terrified J, the report said. True to ICE’s medical malfeasance amid the pandemic, the report said “[n]one of the other women in her unit were informed of her COVID-19 results.” But J’s test result only temporarily delayed her from further abuse at the hands of officials. “ICDC staff continued to pressure J to get the surgery even after she reported her experiences with Dr. Amin and expressed her resistance to undergoing the procedure.” She was eventually taken, “without warning,” to Amin, who further berated her.
It was following this that she was confronted by staff about a whistleblower report on abuses at ICDC. It was apparently the reporting of abuses, not the abuse itself, that majorly pissed off staff. She admitted that she’d spoken to her attorney. “The officer seemed upset and told her that she was going to get deported. Within 24 hours after this incident, J was deported to Mexico as retaliation for speaking out about the abuses at ICDC.” Her two U.S. citizen children remain in the U.S.
This is just one of the many stories in the report, written by Project South, Georgia Detention Watch, Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights, and South Georgia Immigrant Support Network, in collaboration with the HLS Immigration Project and the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic. The report said that the pandemic has only “exacerbated inhumane conditions” at ICDC (and elsewhere). Like detained immigrants and advocates have said since the very start of the pandemic, “[s]ocial distancing is impossible here.”
“It’s disturbing that this type of abuse and maltreatment is ongoing in the United States and that detained immigrants are the victims,” Cindy Zapata, clinical instructor at the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic and supervising attorney of the HLS Immigration Project, said in a statement received by Daily Kos. In fact, a class action lawsuit filed on behalf of women late last year alleged officials had known about this abuse for years. “These women have displayed unimaginable bravery in speaking out against this abuse, and some have suffered direct retaliation with deportation and separation from their families. But in spite of it all, they continue to demand change.”
“The pain and suffering these women endured in ICE custody is appalling, and a shameful recurrence of this country’s dark history,” Project South staff attorney Priyanka Bhatt said in the statement. “Sadly, these abuses by the agency do not stand alone; ICE has a proven track record of violating human rights inside their deadly prisons.”
And of retaliation against immigrants for making public these abuses. Just days ago, ICE needlessly transferred in the middle of the night a number of immigrants who had spoken out against inhumane and unsafe conditions at multiple California detention facilities. The facility they were sent to had been criticized by a court for its “appalling” handling of COVID-19. Internal emails obtained through that lawsuit revealed that the facility rejected a plan to test all detained people basically because it would be too hard.
While immigrants are no longer being detained at ICDC, ICE transferred them elsewhere rather than just releasing them, which it has every ability to do. A Detention Watch Network report from late last year found that ICE’s overall refusal to free immigrants amid the pandemic added nearly 250,000 cases nationally. “It is even more troubling that some people, including medically vulnerable individuals, are being sent from facility to facility—particularly amid the latest COVID-19 surges happening around the country, especially in the Southeast,” Southern Poverty Law Center’s Southeast Immigrant Freedom Initiative lead attorney Maura Finn said. “This practice flagrantly violates CDC guidance, which limits the transfer of detained individuals to specific circumstances like preventing overcrowding or provision of clinical care.”
In a number of recommendations, the organizations that authored the ICDC report said that the Biden administration should “[r]eturn to the United States women who were deported from ICDC in retaliation for speaking out, and reunite them with their families,” facilitate “relief for women who have participated in the investigation of these complaints,” and “[d]ismantle the immigrant detention system in its entirety and eliminate ICE.” ICE, as a reminder, is a relatively recent agency created in 2003.
“We call for the immediate closure of ICDC and reparations for all the survivors of ICDC and defunding of ICE,” Bhatt continued. “We also demand that all the women involved in the investigation into medical abuses at ICDC be offered assistance to allow them to pursue immigration relief in the U.S. and address the damage caused by the human rights abuses they suffered. As one ICDC survivor stated: ‘We need justice and freedom.’” Read the full report here.