Lawmakers who toured Georgia detention site raise concerns

Irwin County Detention Center

Several members of Congress called for a detention facility in Georgia to be shut down pending investigation after women detainees told them of being forced into unnecessary gynecological procedures with dirty equipment that left serious infections amid conditions so unsanitary that some begged to be deported.

“This is a horror show, it truly is worse than I expected,” Rep. Juan Vargas, a California Democrat, said Saturday after talking to several detainees on the visit to the Irwin County Detention Center, where both detainees for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and inmates for the U.S. Marshals Service are housed

While many of the allegations made by the women centered on Dr. Mahendra Amin, a gynecologist accused of performing surgeries without their consent, members of the Congressional delegation recounted stories about conditions and treatment that extended beyond those accusations — starting with the alleged failure to take even the most basic steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

They said, for example, that the women reported they were issued one paper mask and were forced to wear it for weeks at a time before they were finally given new masks the day before at least 10 members of Congress paid a visit.

“They make their living by feasting off the misery of detainees, so cost-cutting is the norm here,” Rep. Hank Johnson, Jr., a Georgia Democrat, said of the facility operated by LaSalle Corrections.

They also reported accounts of unsanitary and filthy conditions that put the detainees at risk of becoming seriously ill. Rep. Raul Ruiz, a California Democrat who is also an emergency physician, said he saw in shower stalls the kind of black mold that can cause or exacerbate serious pulmonary diseases.

But much of what they were told reiterated the allegations of other women held at the facility who have come forward complaining that Amin performed hysterectomies and other procedures that they did not understand or agree to.

Many of the allegations against the doctor were first revealed in a recent complaint filed by a nurse at the detention center, Dawn Wooten, who alleged that many detained women were taken to an unnamed gynecologist whom she labeled the “uterus collector” because of how many hysterectomies he performed.

The Associated Press subsequently reported that at least eight women since 2017 had been taken to see Amin for gynecological treatment, though it did not find evidence of mass hysterectomies as alleged in the complaint. Andrew Free, an attorney taking part in an investigation of medical care at the detention center, said a team of lawyers had heard concerns about the doctor from dozens of women.

Bryan Cox, a spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, confirmed that Amin would no longer be seeing patients from the detention center, but declined to comment further, citing an ongoing investigation by the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general.

Johnson told of a woman who recounted recounted being shackled, taken to Irwin County Hospital and undergoing a procedure she did not consent to. “She woke up shackled, crying, hurting, discharged and brought back to Irwin ... and just thrown back into a cell and forced to recuperate that way," Johnson said.

Ruiz said he was told of women who, in apparent retaliation for speaking out about conditions at the facility, were treated “roughly” by staffers and told they had COVID-19. Ruiz said he was told some were placed in isolation for as long as 30 days — far longer, he said, than necessary to quarantine for the virus.

Ruiz said he was told that women refused to even ask for medical treatment out of fear they would be told, like others, that they had an ovarian cyst requiring surgery.

Rep. Nanette Diaz Barragan of California said she heard the same kinds of stories over and over again that revealed a pattern in which Amin would give women an ultrasound they did not consent to.

“They are told there is a cyst that needs to be operated on,” she said.