Migrant women endured medical mistreatment at Georgia ICE facility, U.S. Senate report finds

In this Sept. 15, 2020, file photo, Dawn Wooten, left, a nurse at Irwin County Detention Center in Ocilla, Georgia, speaks at a news conference in Atlanta protesting conditions at the immigration jail.

Jeff Amy / AP Photo

Members of the U.S. Senate on an investigation panel on Tuesday grilled federal immigration officials about a bipartisan report that detailed how migrant women at an immigration detention center in Georgia underwent questionable gynecological procedures.

The U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Permanent Investigations released an 18-month bipartisan report that found migrant women who were detained at Irwin County Detention Center, known as ICDC, in Georgia were subjected to “excessive, invasive, and often unnecessary gynecological procedures,” and many of the women did not consent or understand the procedures they underwent.

Following the release of the report, the panel held a hearing to question Assistant Director Stewart D. Smith of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Health Service Corps at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Pamela Hearn, the medical director at LaSalle Corrections, which has federal contracts to operate detention centers across the country, including one at ICDC.

The report focused on one doctor contracted to treat detainees, Dr. Mahendra Amin, who performed “high rates” of unauthorized hysterectomies on ICDC detainees.

“It’s hard for me to think of anything that is worse than the federal government subjugating incarcerated women to unnecessary gynecological surgery,” Democratic Sen. Jon Ossoff of Georgia, who chairs the panel, said.

Dr. Margaret G. Mueller, an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Northwestern Medicine who testified before senators, said that the women at the detention center underwent aggressive, unnecessary procedures. She said there were instances in which Amin failed to obtain consent.

“This cannot be allowed to happen again,” she said.

Witness tells of mistreatment

One of the witnesses, Karina Cisneros Preciado, detailed to senators how while she was getting a Pap smear at the medical center, Amin diagnosed her with an ovarian cyst. The treatment he conducted included a Depo-Provera injection, which is a type of contraception that suppresses ovulation.

Cisneros Preciado said she had no idea she was given a contraceptive, and said she would have refused because many of the women in her family have had bad reactions to certain types of birth control.

The PSI report found that another doctor who treated Cisneros Preciado did not find any evidence of a cyst.

U.S. Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire said she was disturbed that Cisneros Preciado said she never gave consent during her treatment. Hassan asked Cisneros Preciado if Amin had asked about her family medical history before prescribing the shot.

Cisneros Preciado said he never did.

“To this day, I am extremely scared to go to any doctor for myself and for my kids,” she said.

Cisneros Preciado said she was brought into the United States when she was eight. She told senators when she got married at 18, her relationship became abusive and when she called the police to stop one of her children from being abused, she was arrested.

While the charges were dropped, because of her immigration status, she was sent to the detention center, shortly after giving birth to her daughter.

Cisneros Preciado, said she was still breastfeeding when she was sent to the detention center. She said she was away from her daughter for seven months, and when she finally was released, her daughter “was already walking, she didn’t know who I was. She was scared of me.”

In December 2020, a class action lawsuit was filed by former ICDC detainees against ICDC, ICE,  Amin, Irwin County Hospital, and other federal and non-federal parties alleging that patients had undergone non-consensual and unnecessary gynecological procedures.

Cisneros Preciado is one of the plaintiffs in that class action lawsuit.

The subcommittee for its report subpoenaed Amin to testify, but through “his attorney he submitted an affidavit stating that he declined to provide testimony pursuant to his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination,” the report noted.

Amin has no board certifications, and in 2013 the Department of Justice and state of Georgia sued him, claiming that he committed Medicaid fraud by ordering unnecessary and excessive medical procedures. That lawsuit was settled in 2015, when Amin and his co-defendants had to pay a $520,000 settlement to the federal government while admitting no wrongdoing.

Ossoff grilled Smith, who is responsible for the health care of those incarcerated, on how his agency allowed this to happen and why there was no oversight over Amin.

“We weren’t aware of these complaints,” Smith said. “Until the whistleblower complaints.”

Ossoff continued to press Smith on how Amin was allowed to treat those in custody, despite not being board certified and while he was being sued by the government and state of Georgia for Medicaid fraud.

“It is an abject failure,” Ossoff said to Smith. “What we’ve heard today is that there was no real vetting.”

This story was provided by WABE content partner Georgia Recorder.