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Allegations of unwanted Ice hysterectomies recall grim time in US history

A report claims women in immigration centers are being given unnecessary procedures that can leave them unable to conceive. The story is all too familiar

Magazine, Immigration, The Guardian

Pauline Binam asked to see a doctor because she was having abnormalities with her period. After nearly two years in immigration detention, she was worried that it was having an adverse effect on her health.

The doctor told her that she had a cyst on her ovary and she agreed to a dilation and curettage (D&C) procedure, her lawyer said. But when she awoke from surgery, the doctor told her that one of her fallopian tubes had been removed – a procedure she is adamant she did not give consent for – and that as a result she may no longer be able to conceive naturally. At the time she was just 29.

Her immigration attorney Vân Huynh, told the Guardian: “When she first learned about it, the way that she described it to me is that she was sitting in this wheelchair post operation and the doctor’s telling her that she may not be able to conceive children in the future and it was very upsetting for her. She was sobbing in this wheelchair, not understanding why this was happening.”

Her account is in one of multiple harrowing allegations of women held by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (Ice) at Irwin county detention center in Georgia who have been forced to undergo unwanted hysterectomies and other unnecessary gynaecological procedures. Their stories have come to light in recent days following the release of an explosive whistleblower report.

Binam, a 30-year-old national of Cameroon who has lived in the US since she was two, was narrowly saved from deportation on Wednesday and is now in custody in Texas.

Since her operation in 2019, she has since developed amenorrhea, which means her period has stopped, and is dealing with mental health issues as a result, says Huynh. “There’s a lot of questions that she has that’s gone unanswered and I don’t know that she’s going to be able to have a clear answer to some of the questions as to like ‘Why was this done to me?’ But she’s clear about the fact that this was something that was done to her without her consent.”

The whistleblower report, filed on behalf of nurse Dawn Wooten, a former employee of the center, claims an alarmingly high rate of hysterectomies performed on Spanish-speaking women who she and other nurses feared did not understand what they were undergoing. Wooten claims the doctor, who has since been identified as gynaecologist Dr Mahendra Amin, was so notorious for performing such procedures that she referred to him in the report as the “uterus collector”.

“Everybody he sees has a hysterectomy – just about everybody,” Wooten said in the complaint. “I’ve had several inmates tell me that they’ve been to see the doctor, and they’ve had hysterectomies, and they don’t know why they went or why they’re going.” Other alleged failures by the center included dangerous and unsanitary conditions and poor safety precautions around coronavirus.

House speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Tuesday that if true, the whistleblower claims represented “a staggering abuse of human rights”.

Amin told The Intercept that he had only performed “one or two hysterectomies in the past two [or] three years” and did not specify whether they were performed on Irwin detainees. His attorney, Scott Grubman, said in a statement: “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 said its records show just two referrals for hysterectomies at the jail. “Detainees are afforded informed consent, and a medical procedure like a hysterectomy would never be performed against a detainee’s will,” said Dr Ada Rivera, medical director of the Ice Health Service Corps.
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On Friday, senior Ice official Tony H Pham said the recent allegations “raise some very serious concerns that deserve to be investigated quickly and thoroughly”. He said he “welcomes” an official review, adding: “If there is any truth to these allegations, it is my commitment to make the corrections necessary to ensure we continue to prioritise the health, welfare and safety of Ice detainees.”

LaSalle Corrections, which operates Irwin, has said it “strongly refutes these allegations and any implications of misconduct.”

 

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