Press "Enter" to skip to content

Whistleblower complaint claims mass hysterectomies and COVID-19 cover-up at ICE detention center

Dawn Wooten, the former nurse employee at the Irwin County Detention Center in Ocilla, GA speaking at a news conference on Sept. 15, 2020, in Atlanta, protesting conditions at the immigration jail. Wooten made explosive claims that authorities denied the COVID-19 test to immigrants, performed questionable hysterectomies and shredded records in a complaint filed to the Inspector general of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Photo: Jeff Amy

Atlanta, Georgia — As reported in the Law & Crime, Nurse Dawn Wooten, who was employed at the Irwin County Detention Center (ICDC) in Georgia, filed a whistleblower complaint against her former employer, Irwin County Detention Center (ICDC) in Georgia, on behalf of the immigrant women she saw being mistreated. This complaint was filed with the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) by way of advocacy groups Project South, Georgia Detention Watch, Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights, and South Georgia Immigrant Support Network.

The Business and Human Rights Resource Center reports that lawyers representing 17 detainees claimed that their clients received unnecessary medical gynecological procedures from Dr. Mahendra Amin. According to the office of Rep. Pramila Jayapal, The Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general has launched an investigation into the allegations, and the chair of the House Homeland Security Committee said his panel would also look into the matter, according to CNN. The complaint documents “jarring medical neglect” within the facility, including a refusal to test detainees for COVID-19 and what was described as “an exorbitant rate of hysterectomies being performed on immigrant women.”

Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-N.J.), one of the lawmakers who participated in a virtual hearing Monday to discuss the ICE report, called Wooten’s allegations of sterilization on female ICE detainees “one of the most inhumane things I have ever heard.”

According to Tthe Intercept, Representatives for Project South filed a complaint stating that multiple women came forward to tell about what they believed to be a questionable amount of immigrant women being subject to hysterectomies at ICDC — a surgical procedure in which all or part of the uterus is removed. One woman said she has met five women who had hysterectomies after being detained between October and December 2019. One immigrant woman told Project South that, ahead of the scheduled procedure, she was given multiple explanations about what would happen and why it was necessary but was never clear on why the procedure had to be performed.

Female immigrants at Irwin were often sent to see Dr. Mahendra Amin, the physician accused of performing the unnecessary and unwanted hysterectomies, who was later exposed by a spokesperson for the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ABOG) as not being a board-certified OB-GYN by the ABOG, in an official statement given to The Daily Beast. The American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS) confirmed to Business Insider that Amin was also not certified by any of its 24 member boards. While board certification is a voluntary process, physicians often pursue certification to expand their skill set and establish credibility with patients. Employees working at the facility described Amin’s rush to perform the procedure as questionable, believing it was as if he were “experimenting with their bodies.” Amin completed medical school in India and a residency at the University of Medicine and Dentistry in Newark, New Jersey. It appears that he has maintained an active license with the Georgia Composite Medical Board.

Azadeh Shahshahani, an attorney with one of the immigrant rights groups that filed the complaint said, “It shows the lack of care that ICE feels for detained immigrants, for their wellbeing and healthcare,” calling the situation both “outrageous” and “disturbing.”

Wooten notes in her report that she had talked to several detained immigrants who all had hysterectomies but didn’t know why; she even questioned if he’s collecting the reproductive tissue of these women saying, “Everybody he sees, he’s taking all their uteruses out or he’s taken their tubes.”

She also believes that of the 41 immigrants tested positive for COVID-19, the true numbers are much higher since women that were housed in multiple units in the facility exhibited COVID-19 symptoms, but ICE failed to test them for weeks. Immigrants have also continued to be transferred in and out of the facility, going completely against the guidelines set forward by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the recommendations of Irwin’s own medical director.

Other complaints include both from the detained immigrants and staffers at Irwin that they lacked the personal protective equipment they need to stay safe during the COVID-19 pandemic, as individuals in both groups have only received one mask per person since the pandemic broke out. In addition, it is nearly impossible to socially distance within the facility because, as one immigrant stated, “We share everything together. There is no way at all we can feel protected here in the facility.”

Some immigrants have complained that the medical and quarantine unit in one part of the Irwin facility is filthy and some have resorted to cleaning their cells with items such as shampoo and socks because staffers refuse to provide cleaning chemicals, according to VICE.

Another woman told Project South, “There are a lot of people here who end up in medical trying to kill themselves because of how crazy it is.”

Wooten described how some male detainees have gone on a hunger strike demanding to be released or have better protections against COVID-19, while employees are expected to work even if they have COVID-19 symptoms and are awaiting their test results. Management at the facility allegedly refuses to tell officers if any detained immigrants have tested positive for COVID-19, which could heighten their risk of contracting the virus. 

In the official complaint, Wooten alleged that she believes ICDC is hiding information about COVID-19 in order to keep things quiet. “Everyone in the facility is scared at this point, so management does not want to tell officers and detained immigrants the truth because they are afraid of an uproar. Instead, the secrecy has created a ‘silent pandemic’ where even if officers get COVID-19 from the facility, the officers won’t be able to blame ICDC because no one knows how prevalent COVID-19 is inside ICDC due to not testing detained immigrants and not sharing who has the virus,” Wooten said.

Amin has practiced in Douglas, GA for at least two decades, both in his private practice and as the medical director for the labor and delivery department at Irwin County Hospital. Business records reviewed by The Daily Beast show he also incorporated a new “Amin Surgery Center for Women” in September 2019 and sought state approvals to build the facility two months afterward. A consultant for the project, Gayle Evans, said the surgical center is still under construction and has not started seeing patients. When contacted for comment via text, Amin declined to speak on his board certification and deferred all questions to his lawyer, who did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

In a statement provided to Rolling Stone, Amin’s lawyer, Scott Grubman, “vehemently” denied the allegations. “Dr. Amin is a highly respected physician who has dedicated his adult life to treating a high-risk, underserved population in rural Georgia,” he wrote. “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.” ICE has likewise insisted that the allegations were false, saying in a statement that “only two individuals at Irwin County Detention Center were referred to certified, credentialed medical professionals at gynecological and obstetrical health care facilities for hysterectomies in compliance with National Commission on Correctional Health Care (NCCHC) standards.”

Dr. Ada Rivera, medical director of the ICE Health Service Corps, said both surgeries had been approved by ICE officials. “To be clear, medical care decisions concerning detainees are made by medical personnel, not by law enforcement personnel,” Rivera said in the statement. “Detainees are afforded informed consent, and a medical procedure like a hysterectomy would never be performed against a detainee’s will.”