Women who have spoken out about alleged abuse by a gynecologist while in U.S. custody won a reprieve Tuesday when the U.S. Department of Justice agreed to halt their deportations until President Donald Trump is nearly out of office.
The motion filed by the DOJ must still be approved by a federal judge, but the department reached an agreement with the lawyers of several women who say Dr. Mahendra Amin abused them and subjected them to invasive procedures without their consent while they were being held at Irwin County Detention Center in Ocilla, Georgia. Under the agreement, the government will not deport the women until at least mid-January.
The women say that shortly after they spoke to investigators at the DOJ and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which are both conducting probes into their allegations, ICE moved to deport them, in some cases to home countries where they have not lived in decades.
"Mbeti's fear in answering the investigators' questions was that it would make her immigration case worse. And within hours of the interview, her worst fears were realized."
—Elora Mukherjee, Columbia University
"ICE and others at Irwin thought they could silence these women," Elora Mukherjee, a law professor at Columbia University who is working with some of the women, told the Associated Press Tuesday. "They thought they could act with impunity and nothing would ever happen. But the women have organized and had the audacity to speak out."
As Common Dreams reported in September, a nurse who worked at the detention center came forward to disclose that an alarming number of hysterectomies had been performed on women there and that Amin's patients were confused when they learned what he had done.
The Associated Press reviewed interviews with attorneys and medical records and reported this month that it had not uncovered "evidence to support an initial claim that he performed a large number of hysterectomies," but that a pattern of allegations suggested Amin had "performed operations that caused or worsened [patients'] pain without explaining what he was doing or giving them an alternative."
Mbeti Ndonga, who is 37 and has lived in the U.S. since she was a toddler, was first detained at Irwin County Detention Center in April 2019. She went to see Amin when she began experiencing heavy menstrual periods, and was informed by the doctor that she had uterine fibroids—common and generally benign tumors. According to Vice News, Amin later operated on Ndonga but she didn't understand the consent forms she was signing allowed him to perform a surgery in which he "removed a follicular cyst as well as tissue from the cervix and uterus."
Ndonga told the AP that when she woke up from the surgery, Amin told her she would no longer be able to have children. She said she still suffers from heavy bleeding and pain.
Shortly after she was interviewed by federal investigator earlier this month, she was told ICE had lifted a hold on a deportation order for her and that she could be sent back to her home country of Kenya at any time.
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"Mbeti's fear in answering the investigators' questions was that it would make her immigration case worse," Mukherjee told the AP. "And within hours of the interview, her worst fears were realized."
By attempting to deport women who come forward about the alleged abuse, Mukherjee added, "ICE is destroying the evidence needed for this investigation."
The agreement by the DOJ and the women's lawyers give the women "a measure of protection for trying to expose the abuses," she told the AP.
The halt to deportations was announced after Democratic lawmakers and immigrant rights advocates spoke out. The grassroots rights group Mijente launched a petition earlier this month, saying, "We will not allow ICE to retaliate against and disappear the survivors of their crimes or witnesses in the investigation." The petition has gathered nearly 2,000 signatures.
Take action to help stop the deportations of women in #Georgia who are survivors of medical abuse in ICE detention at Irwin. ICE is trying to prevent their testimony from making it into the record. Let them know we will not allow it! #ShutDownIrwin https://t.co/jBEsFVesLF
— Mijente (@ConMijente) November 20, 2020
More than 100 Democrats in Congress said last week that "deporting these witnesses—especially when none of them have received independent physical or mental health evaluations by medical experts—amounts to a de facto destruction of evidence."
Amid a criminal investigation, it appears @ICEgov is deporting victims.
We denounce any efforts to silence people speaking out and hide physical evidence of medical abuse.
@HispanicCaucus members went to Irwin and are demanding these deportations stop. https://t.co/o6GhMrDrkY
— Hispanic Caucus (@HispanicCaucus) November 18, 2020
The halt to the women's deportations "is an acknowledgement by the federal government that it is critically important that these women have a meaningful opportunity to participate in the federal investigation related to medical atrocities at Irwin," Mukherjee told Vice News Tuesday.