HOUSTON (AP) – The Trump administration is trying to deport several women allegedly ill-treated by a Georgia gynecologist in an immigration prison, according to its lawyers.
U.S. immigration and customs have already deported six former patients who found out about Dr. Mahendra Amin, who was accused of operating on migrant women without their consent or performing procedures that were medically unnecessary and potentially jeopardized their ability to have children. At least seven other people at the Irwin County Detention Center in Ocilla, Georgia, who had alleged the doctor, have received news that they may be removed from the country soon, lawyers said.
Hours after speaking to federal investigators, an imprisoned woman said ICE had told her it had canceled her deportation and that she was facing an “imminent” removal.
Another woman was rushed to a Georgia rural airport early Monday and asked to sign deportation papers and then be returned to the facility when her lawyers sued in federal court.
They claim Amin performed operations that caused or worsened their pain without explaining what he was doing or giving them an alternative. Their stories fit a broader pattern of allegations made against Amin by incarcerated women. Some of them were revealed in lawyer interviews and medical records reviewed by The Associated Press. However, there is no evidence to support an initial claim that he performed a large number of hysterectomies.
The Justice Department has opened a criminal investigation, and the Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security is also investigating.
Amin’s attorney Scott Grubman has previously denied the doctor’s done anything wrong, calling him a “highly respected doctor who dedicated his adult life to treating an underserved, high-risk population in rural Georgia.” Amin has stopped seeing women at the Irwin County Detention Center.
Immigrant attorneys have asked federal investigators to investigate not only the doctor but the detention center and any role ICE had in sending patients to him.
While deported persons may still be able to stand as witnesses in a criminal or civil case, many end up in unstable countries or situations where it becomes difficult to keep in touch with them. The deportations take place in the final weeks of President Donald Trump’s administration after his defeat by Democrat Joe Biden.
“ICE is destroying the evidence required for this investigation,” said Elora Mukherjee, a Columbia University law professor who works with several women.
ICE said it had informed the Inspector General for Homeland Security “about planned transfers or relocations of Irwin prisoners who were former patients of Dr. Amin”.
“Any implication that ICE is trying to hinder the investigation by removing respondents is completely false,” the agency said in a statement.
The Justice Department declined to comment. Grubman declined to say if the doctor had spoken to investigators.
Mbeti Ndonga, 37, was brought to Amin last year after seeking treatment for abdominal pain and excessive vaginal bleeding. She said she wanted a new prescription to continue treatment ordered by a previous doctor. Instead, Amin insisted on having a procedure known as dilation and curettage that involves removing tissue from the uterus to treat excessive bleeding. Her medical records indicate that she also received a laparoscopy, which involves making incisions in the abdomen.
“He was adamant and said I needed an operation,” Ndonga told AP.
When she woke up, she said that Amin had told her she would never have children. It is unclear whether this is the case. She still suffers from bleeding and pain.
Ndonga spoke to government investigators twice, most recently on Tuesday. “I told them I was abused, tortured, dehumanized,” she said.
Within hours of her first interview last week, Ndonga and her lawyers said she learned that ICE had canceled her deportation and that she could be sent to Kenya at any time.
“Mbeti’s fear in answering investigators’ questions was that it would make their immigration case worse,” Mukherjee said. “And within a few hours of the interview, your worst fears were recognized.”
Another woman was taken to Amin in February after asking for estrogen patches to treat hot flashes after a hysterectomy performed by another doctor in 2014. She asked to be identified only by her first name, Yanira, because she feared she would be attacked by criminals if they were deported to Mexico.
Yanira said Amin told her he would do a vaginal ultrasound and she would need a Pap smear, a cancer test that involves a doctor collecting cells from a woman’s cervix.
Both procedures caused great pain. After the Pap smear, Yanira noticed that the tools Amin used were not lubricated. She had trouble sitting for almost a week.
“We are human beings. We are women. We have feelings, ”she said. “Just because we’re imprisoned doesn’t mean we should be treated like animals.”
ICE did not answer questions about the two women who were brought to the United States as young children. Ndonga had previously been deported after being arrested for tampering with government property and then arrested by ICE after his re-entry, Mukherjee said.
Yanira was taken into immigration custody after being arrested for possession of less than one gram of cocaine or methamphetamine. Her lawyers told the government on Thursday that they wanted to speak to investigators about Amin. Early Monday, Yanira said she was driven to an airport to board a deportation flight. However, another ICE agent said she would not be deported because her lawyers intervened.
Grubman declined to comment, citing the Federal Data Protection Act.
The ICE directive instructs agents to “exercise all reasonable discretion on a case-by-case basis” with regard to the deportation of “crime victims, crime witnesses and anyone pursuing legitimate civil rights complaints”.
The agency said this week that it is recording “the interviews” from government investigators. It added that once an imprisoned migrant has exhausted all legal remedies, “it is subject to a final removal order … and that order must be carried out”.